Photo: Dean Hutton

Johannesburg - Eskom has contested the validity of information contained in a court application by trade union Solidarity, which has challenged the power utility’s implementation of employment equity policies.

The union has made an application to the labour court in Joburg contesting what it described as Eskom’s five-year plan, which included possibly shedding about 3 000 jobs.

In a fact sheet released by the union at a media briefing in Centurion on Wednesday, the union said the utility’s employment equity plan submitted to the Department of Labour had set clear guidelines to prioritise the employment of economically active population groups at the peril of other workers.

“According to the plan, black men will be reduced from 19 286 to 17 600, coloured men from 2 511 to 2 317, Indian men from 1 050 to 935, white men from 5 494 to 4 594, Indian women from 611 to 551 and white women from 2 146 to 1 967,” the union’s Dirk Groenewald said.

However, Eskom said the figures revealed by Solidarity were part of a draft plan that would never see the light of day.

The power utility’s spokesman, Khulu Phasiwe, said Solidarity’s court challenge was based on a draft proposal of Eskom’s recruitment and selection policies.

“I am aware that they are referring to some leaked information that around 3 000 people will be fired. That document was an internal document which was a draft, a working paper, and has not been approved. The actual document sent to the Department of Labour does not have the information they are contesting,” Phasiwe said.

Eskom said it had discussed its plans with unions, including Solidarity, through engagements in the employment equity and skills development task team, of which they form part. Phasiwe told The Star that Solidarity’s behaviour was questionable in the light of its involvement in the processes undertaken.

But the union, which represents mainly white workers who feel government institutions and private companies are prejudicial towards them on the basis of their skin colour, disputed this.

Groenewald said Eskom was irrational. Solidarity also accused the state-owned entity of dishonesty.

“The consultation process was a smokescreen to make it look as though they complied with the law and the requirements for consultation. So we don’t know how it is going to be. This creates uncertainty within the workforce at Eskom.”

The union also said the plan would throw the economy into disarray if implemented and would deepen the electricity crisis.

Solidarity’s head of research, Piet le Roux, said: “If Eskom continues to make race the only relevant criterion for determining how it employs, it will compromise on the other factors, including the skills and qualifications of the person. It includes the location and aptitude and all the human factors that make a person suitable for the job for keeping the lights on. Those are being ignored by Eskom.

“If you make race the only criterion, you will compromise on those, and the effects will be felt throughout the economy. And it will be felt in job losses too.”

Eskom has stood its ground, maintaining that it had the responsibility to employ individuals according to the country’s affirmative action policies.

Phasiwe said it was their prerogative to employ previously disadvantaged race and gender groups. “They (Solidarity) don’t mention that the Eskom draft proposed the increase of white and black women in management, because there’s only two women in the top echelons of the company. So, because it does not suit their purpose, they are not mentioning that.”

He added that the claim that jobs would be lost was absurd, as the country had a shortage of engineers and it would be shortsighted of Eskom to dismiss them.

But according to Solidarity, Eskom has already submitted the contested plan, and that it was because of pressures from the Department of Labour to project national and regional demographics and a “fixation with race demographics” across government departments.

Other unions organising at Eskom – the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA – were also listed as respondents in the court application, along with Eskom and the Department of Labour. NUM and Numsa were included in the litigation as they were party to agreements promoting the policies in question.

The Star