Mass action looms over Eskom hike

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Durban - Countrywide pickets are planned this week to protest against Eskom’s application for 16 percent electricity increases every year over the next five years.

The pickets by civil society organisations, environmentalists and unions will take place outside venues where the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) will hold public hearings into Eskom’s application.

The organisations also plan to make submissions at the hearings, arguing that not only will Eskom’s proposed increase be a financial burden on ordinary citizens, it will lead to thousands of job losses.

Eskom’s application for a third multi-year price determination (MYPD) will see the price paid for electricity go from 61c a kWh in 2012/2013 to 128c in 2017/2018 – more than double over five years.

The hearings will begin on Tuesday in the Western Cape, moving to the Eastern Cape on Wednesday. On Thursday the hearings will take place at Durban’s International Convention Centre.

Speaking in Durban yesterday, Irvin Jim, secretary-general of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), said if the 16 percent increase was granted, more than 15 000 jobs in the foundry sector would be lost overnight.

Jim said a snap electricity cost survey, conducted by Numsa in November on 10 energy-intensive production companies found that if the electricity increases went ahead, 37.5 percent of them anticipated closing.

“Even more distressing is the fact that all but one company stated they would have to retrench workers as a result of the proposed tariff increase. The companies further stated that the job losses would range between 300 and 600 a company in the five-year period,” he said.

Jim said the union would call for a review of the electricity pricing policy and was opposed to Eskom’s application on the basis that:

* The increases punish electricity consumers and customers for incorrect policy choices made in previous years;

* The increases would lead to job losses;

* The requested increases will be inflationary and will lead to general price rises;

* Eskom’s application is not aligned with other electricity- and energy-related policies;

* Through the increases consumers and customers are asked to pay for Eskom’s inefficiencies; and

* The increases are consistent with Eskom’s corporatisation drive.

“As a state-owned entity, Eskom should not be pursuing financial autonomy nor generating a return for our government at the expense of the economy and South Africans, especially the poor.

“We find it baffling that at the end of the MYPD period Eskom will have accumulated R46 billion for its shareholder, our government, at the cost of South Africans and the country’s economy,” Jim said.

He urged the government to capitalise Eskom and not allow the state-owned utility to “wipe out companies” by their increase demands.

“If Eskom is allowed to destroy jobs in the manner in which it is doing then the whole liberation alliance will be in a crisis. The first phase is picketing, the second phase is rolling mass action. We cannot fold our arms and do nothing while jobs are being destroyed.

“If we allow that, we will give more ammunition to (Helen) Zille who opens her mouth and highlights every failure to destroy the ANC. We as the alliance have a duty to ensure we act in the interest of our mandate,” Jim said.

Desmond D’Sa, project co-ordinator of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) said they also planned to picket at the ICC on Thursday.

D’Sa said any increase would be unsustainable and unfair to the average South African.

“This kind of cost increase severely impacts on the ability of South Africans, many of whom are already poor and without electricity, to meet a basic standard of living. As in the case of e-tolling, the only loud voice in support of the tariff increase has been that of the government. We are calling on Nersa to reject Eskom’s application. The reality is that South African citizens are in for a long ride of suffering because Eskom is failing to deliver clean, affordable and accessible electricity to the South African citizens.

“That is why to stop this they need to make their presence felt at the local Nersa public hearings,” he said.

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