Picture: Dumisani Sibeko
JOHANNESBURG - Power utility Eskom’s intention to cut 7000 jobs through natural attrition will bring it perilously in contact with a live wire as affiliated trade unions threaten to short-circuit its operations with running strike action.

The job bombshell comes at a tense time during protracted wage negotiations with unions, which have brought back the spectre of load shedding as the utility tries to mitigate the impact of extended work stoppages over a two-month period.

Goldman Sachs Group warned in September last year that Eskom was the biggest single risk to the economy. The South African economy at present is skirting around recession, following a 2.2percent contraction in the first quarter.

Eskom senior manager Marion Hughes’s announcement that the state-owned power utility intends to reduce the headcount from 48678 to 41613 by 2023 across all levels through normal attrition has sent the wrong buzz to unions.

“We call upon all workers in the country to unite and embark on a mammoth battle against this cancer,” said Paris Mashego, the energy sector co-ordinator at the National Union of Mineworkers, adding: “We will resist any attempt by Eskom to retrench 7000 workers who are currently facing dire economic conditions.”

Eskom spokesperson Di- katso Mothae confirmed that Hughes was referring to natural attrition. “We don’t have any plans to retrench staff.”

Eskom - battling a cash crunch and a net loss of R2.3billion and irregular expenditure of R19bn in 2018 - is potentially overstaffed by 66percent, according to a World Bank study of 2016. It stated that Eskom’s average salary was more than R700000 a year.

Solidarity chief negotiator Tommy Wedderspoon said they had been informed by Eskom of the intention to reduce the number of employees through natural attrition. “That’s better than a situation where people lose their jobs via retrenchments,” he said.

Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said: “Eskom has not communicated this message in the proper structure, which is the strategic forum. It is outrageous that we are hearing through the media that this is what they intend to do.”

Hlubi-Majola said the crisis at Eskom was a result of failure of management. “Eskom has been brought to the point of collapse through looting and corruption and mismanagement by senior management. If retrenchments are to happen, they must start with Eskom’s senior management,” she said.

National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (Numsa) treasurer Mphumzi Maqungo said: “As Numsa, we will use all the necessary methods to defend our members. We don’t believe this thing can be addressed by retrenching workers.”