Unions and Eskom management are at loggerheads over whether to grant workers a salary increase of 15% and one expert has insisted the dispute is holding the country to ransom. Photo: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS
Johannesburg - While a fierce wage battle rages at Eskom, businesses, civil society and ordinary people’s lives will be plunged into darkness as load shedding once again becomes a grim reality.

Energy experts have condemned the utility’s handling of the labour dispute which has led to the return of load shedding, allegedly because disgruntled Eskom employees have resorted to sabotaging operations.

The power utility has claimed the “current illegal protest action” by some employees at various sites over wage increases has put the country in darkness again.

Unions and Eskom management are at loggerheads over whether to grant workers a salary increase of 15% and one expert has insisted the dispute is holding the country to ransom.

“This threatens the livelihood of every single person in the country,” said independent energy expert Chris Yelland. “If Eskom fails, we all fail.”

The parastal’s troubles were reignited this week as members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and Solidarity downed tools and threatened a national shutdown if their demand for a salary increase was not met.

Eskom management has consistently argued it does not have the money to meet the workers’ demands.

The industrial action resulted in stage one load shedding on Thursday evening, which will continue this weekend.

On Thursday, the Labour Court granted Eskom an interdict against striking unions.

The court prevented the NUM Numsa and Solidarity from embarking on any further planned strikes pickets gatherings or marches.

But many residents, including in Joburg, were without power yesterday.

Energy consultant Ted Blom also blamed Eskom for leaving South Africans without electricity, insisting the utility had been standing “too close to the edge for too long. Eskom’s fall was inevitable”

Blom said there had been problems with the utility’s labour, coal and plant management for years and it had consistently pushed each of these elements to the limits.

He blamed the management team for Eskom’s woes.

Numsa national spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said Eskom was unable to pay workers an increase because of state capture at the parastatal as well as mismanagement.

“We made a clarion call that Eskom coal mines should be supplying Eskom with cheap and good quality coal instead of enriching capitalists who run Eskom mines and who used these mines before the global commodity crisis in 2008 to maximise profits for themselves out of Eskom coal contracts and out of export coal exporting contracts,” said Hlubi-Majola.

“During this period when Numsa and other unions were being ignored by Eskom management, some Eskom board members sat on the boards of the mines (as well).

“That is why they refused to listen to Numsa.”

On Friday, an Eskom media desk statement said the utility was doing its utmost to keep its plant operating optimally.

“Eskom calls on all consumers to assist by reducing their electricity consumption by switching off geysers, electric heating, pool pumps and all non-essential appliances throughout the day,” the statement said.

“We would like to thank our workers who have continued working under very difficult circumstances and all South Africans who have heeded the call to action to use electricity sparingly.”

On Friday night, Eskom issued a statement that loadshedding had ended for the evening.

Saturday Star