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Johannesburg - City Power’s striking technicians, currently holding the city to ransom through widespread electricity outages, have been claiming an average of R100 000 a month on overtime.
This was revealed on Friday morning when City Power spokesman Hloni Motloung confirmed the power utility spends an average of R1.2 million a year for each technician on overtime pay. There are about a 100 technicians in its employ.
“That’s what our MD Sicelo Xulu said on Friday morning,” Motloung said on Friday morning, referring to information given out by Xulu, whose current overseas trip has been cut short by the ongoing electricity crisis.
He said management was meeting the striking workers on Friday morning. They were still in the meeting at the time of publication.
City Power’s acting managing director Louis Pieterse said it was the refusal by striking workers to even enter discussions over proposed changes to working hours which had led to the strike.
Pieterse admitted that the outlook for the weekend was bleak for residents without electricity.
“Ja, I’m afraid if staff were just willing to talk I think we can get to a solution,” he told Talk Radio 702.
Some workers downed tools in an unprotected strike on Wednesday and allegedly sabotaged sub-stations over dissatisfaction with new working hours which would see employees work shifts.
“The reaction was they don’t want shifts – they don’t even want to discuss it,” Pieterse said.
He also said that the shift policy had been agreed on by the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu).
Pieterse said the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration had given the unions the option to exercise strike action over the shifts in March, which they had not done.
“It’s not something that suddenly happened,” said Pieterse.
Meanwhile a cold, dry, dark weekend is looming for some Joburg residents caught up in the crippling blackouts. Reported estimates are at least 30 000 people are without electricity – some of them having been without power for well over 24 hours. And now the knock-on effect has led to water outages.
Joburg Water confirmed on Friday morning Northcliff and Constantia Kloof had no water because the lack of power meant water could not be pumped from the towers.
Joburg Water spokeswoman Millicent Kabwe said water supply to Constantia Kloof had been restored because they managed to use a generator on Friday night, but that the situation in Northcliff was not so simple.
“We’d need a much bigger generator which we don’t have,” Kabwe said, but confirmed that they were looking for one on Friday.
“Some areas may already be experiencing water shortages or a decrease in pressure,” Joburg Water announced on Thursday.
As reports emerged of emergency water tankers being deployed to affected parts of the city like Northcliff, other reports suggested certain reservoirs had already run out of water.
Samwu said on Friday morning the strike was not sanctioned by them. “We apologise to the communities for whatever has happened but it is not Samwu that has caused this,” said spokeswoman Phumlile Shange.
The shift policy had already been postponed from September 1 to November 1 as Pieterse said the utility was “not 100 percent ready for implementation”.
Shange said the union had been working with City Power management about the shift system and they would now “need to relook at certain clauses” in the agreement.
She also denied Samwu members could have been involved in sabotage. “We are not going to accept that our members could do such a thing,” Shange said.
Pieterse said City Power had “no choice” but to implement the shift system because they needed to work around the clock.
He said the old system had technicians working a standard 7am to 4pm weekday, but were then paid overtime for work done outside these hours. He said this was an unnecessarily expensive system, and the overtime pay could be better spent on hiring extra staff and introducing a shift roster.
This, he admitted, would mean those who were currently working a lot of extra hours would end up earning less money once the shift system was introduced.
The ward councillor for Parkhurst, Tim Truluck, said that although he was frustrated at City Power and the action the strikers took, he did have empathy for them because of poor management.
“It’s like a Porsche trying to drive down a bumpy old road,” he said.
Joburg mayor Parks Tau has failed to speak on the issue, despite several calls for him to address the city on the crisis.
Meanwhile Joburgers battled to deal with the ongoing outages on Friday morning. In Emmarentia robots were out, but pointsmen were on duty. At a small shopping complex in Emmarentia, many shops were unable to open.
Kevin Cousins, owner of the Barney’s Paint store, said he was upset because he has lost a lot of money. He said power at his shop went off at about 6am on Thursday and he had lost R30 000 in business so far. “This is terrible. I hope this problem is going to be resolved soon. I have hired a generator but it can’t help me that much because it can only run half the shop,” Cousins lamented.
The owner of Jimmy’s Killer Fish and Chips, Saheema Omar, said she had lost R40 000 worth of stock. “The power outage has finished us,” said Omar, shaking her head.