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Labour voices concerns over job losses amidst rapid transition to renewables

National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) General Secretary Irvin Jim. File photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) General Secretary Irvin Jim. File photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Sep 20, 2023


Labour has stomped its foot down on the Just Energy Transition, citing job losses from decommissioned coal mines as the biggest threat that the change over to renewables is having.

At a National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Just Energy Summit, held in Johannesburg yesterday, delegates said the speed at which South Africa was rushing the transition was suspicious, particularly as developed countries, including Germany, were restarting coal mines. This as more than 93 000 jobs locally were threatened by the decommissioning of mines.

The two-day summit is meant to assist in defining and identifying what mechanisms trade unions need to put in place to ensure that South Africa’s transition leaves no one behind.

It is slated as an opportunity for trade unions to consider what their overall responsibility will be in ensuring that they achieve a just transition that will ensure sufficient safeguards and guarantees of livelihoods for all those that stand to be affected, especially, in the spaces in which they organise.

"Coal should not go anywhere, there is no justice in this just transition. We cannot lose 1 000 coal jobs and then be promised 48 jobs under renewables projects. Where is the sense? Where is the justice?," delegates said.

Labour charged that contrary to the expectations that the just transition would not leave anyone behind, there were already direct jobs lost with the decommissioning of the Komati Power station, which also affected people who benefited from providing goods or services to the workers.

Delegates said South Africa was going at breakneck speed to implement the just transition whereas developed countries were taking the same coal from the country to power their own coal fired power stations.

"People are losing jobs from this transition, the government must come out and tell us what they are doing to protect the jobs instead of dancing to the dictates of countries who are using our resources. We can't normalise the loss of 93 000 jobs.Why are we being forced to move away from coal when were are the least of the emission emitters compared to developed countries" delegates said.

There was also deep suspicion of the unbundling of Eskom to the generation, transmission and distribution, considering it as a quick means to privatise energy, which is a national necessity.

National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) General Secretary Irvin Jim emphasised that it was labour that called for a just transition, which had now been overtaken by technicalities that slashed coal miners' jobs.

“The reckless closure of power stations does not only plunge us into rolling blackouts and energy poverty but it leaves the Steve Tshwete municipality and the rest of the province of Mpumalanga with ghost towns that can further plunge the economy of Mpumalanga into high levels of unemployment," Jim said.

Responding to labour's concerns, Minister for Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan said there were examples of successful transition in China, India and Brazil, which had created one stop power stations, which utilised the various renewable energy sources.

He said the 2030 deadline for transition was an indicative deadline that would benchmark the country's progress in utilising renewable energy sources and not a final timeline as 2050 was a period by which a lot should have been achieved.

He disputed assertions that the government was being dictated to by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to transition faster or risk losing funding.

"None of us are intimidated by the IMF or World Bank as you say.We have borrowed more than R4 trillion and like any lender they are interested to see that we are using the money well and more importantly that we are going to pay. There is nobody who will give you a free loan," Gordhan said.