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The Standing Committee on Appropriations heard this week that Eskom’s labour force fears retrenchment. During its three-day oversight visit to Eskom’s Megawatt Park in Gauteng, engagements with labour unions, including the National Union of Mineworkers (Num), the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Solidarity revolved around these fears and the lack of trust between Eskom’s management and the labour unions.

The unions all reject the unbundling of Eskom. Speaking to the committee, Numsa’s Secretary-General, Mr Irvin Jim, asked how breaking up Eskom’s operational value chain into three separate entities will solve its immediate operational and financial challenges. The unions believe that this is just another way of privatising the entity and say that workers have become demotivated amidst the fear of retrenchments. The committee also noted the “trust deficit” between unions and Eskom’s management and the sentiment that the unions are not being consulted about the future of Eskom. In particular, the unions mentioned that they are not being consulted about the optimum energy mix strategy or the impact of the closure of some coal-fired generation plants on jobs.

The committee said that these fears are not without merit, but that National Treasury had indicated that no retrenchments will take place at Eskom. The Chairperson of the committee, Mr Sfiso Buthelezi, questioned the union’s involvement in the restructuring of Eskom and encouraged both unions and executives to engage on these issues and bring to peace of mind to Eskom’s labour force.

 

The committee also noted the bloated executive structure, which according to Eskom’s Group Executive: Human Resources, has been reduced by 16 executives during the 2018/2019 financial year. The committee heard that senior management positions were reduced from 506 to 388 during the same period, but Numsa is of the opinion that unbundling will worsen this already bloated structure since the separate divisions would need to have their own CEOs, senior executives and boards.

Whilst engagements with the board had to be delayed, the committee vowed to meet with them before the end of the month to share some of its findings and recommendations while stressing its concern on the instability caused by the high turnover at executive level. The committee meanwhile called on the board and the Minister to finalise the appointment of a permanent chief executive officer (CEO), who would be able to bring some stability and deal with the current fears and challenges, especially among its labour force.

Felicia Lombard
17 October 2019