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More dark days as wage agreement between Eskom and workers stalls again

Eskom and workers have not reached agreement.Image: Sumaya Hisham/Reuters

Eskom and workers have not reached agreement.Image: Sumaya Hisham/Reuters

Published Jul 5, 2022

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South Africans, brace yourselves for more dark days as wage talks between Eskom and workers are yet to be reached.

Eskom national spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said talks were proceeding as planned, on Tuesday afternoon.

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The power utility had since last Tuesday implemented Stage 6 blackouts, citing the power was constrained due to what they called an “unlawful” strike action by employees.

Workers downed tools on June 22, after the power utility and unions were deadlocked.

Last week, Eskom said chances of Eskom instituting Stage 8 load shedding were low, but South Africans were worried more than ever about what will happen tomorrow.

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Eskom confirmed the blackouts will continue this week.

“As the generation capacity shortages persist over the next few weeks, load shedding will continue to be implemented at various stages. Eskom cautions the public that it will still take a few weeks for the power generation system to fully recover to the pre-strike levels,” said Mantshantsha.

He said depending on several possibilities including the workforce fully returning to work to conduct much-needed repairs to equipment, it was anticipated blackouts would gradually be lowered to Stage 2 by the weekend.

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“Eskom will communicate and implement any changes as may be necessary.

“On Tuesday, Stage 2 load shedding will be implemented from midnight to 5am, before increasing to Stage 4 at 5am to 4pm. Stage 5 load shedding will be implemented at 4pm to 10pm. Load shedding will then be lowered to Stage 4 until midnight.

“We currently have 3 384MW of planned maintenance, while another 18 319MW of capacity is unavailable due to breakdowns,” Mantshantsha said.

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The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the National Union of Mines (NUM) met with Eskom management at the Central Bargaining Forum (CBF) for what was supposed to be the fourth round of wage talks.

Talks had been set for June 21 and 22.

“Workers’ wages do not affect Eskom’s balance sheet negatively, there is an institutional refusal by Eskom to reduce the cost drivers at the entity. There are other costs that are responsible for the entity’s spiralling debt-levels.

“Over the past four years, the bargaining unit employees’ (28 300 in total), wage costs remained flat between R16.9 billion and R17.4bn – at most increasing by 2.3%.

“During financial year 21/22, despite the unilateral implementation of 1.5% increase on the bargaining unit, total costs declined by R483 million,” said Numsa general-secretary Irvin Jim, two weeks ago.

“Primary energy costs are collapsing Eskom, in comparison the cost of primary energy has gone up. Primary energy is a combination of coal costs, the cost of independent power producers (IPPs) and the cost of diesel for the open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs).

“Primary energy costs increased from R85 billion in 2017/18 to R116 billion for the 2021/22 financial year. That is a R31 billion increase over the past four years. Interim results released on December 15, 2021 have forecast a further R12 billion increase from R116 billion to R128 billion for the financial year ending 2022,” Jim said.

He said Eskom bailed out Duvha Seriti/South32, but refused to bail out its employees.

“On its own, the Duvha Seriti/South32 Coal contract increased by 104%, from R269.80 per ton to R550 per ton translating into a R8.4 billion increase over four years. Eskom cited financial distress of Seriti/South32 emanating from the operational costs (which includes labour costs), as the reason to grant this exorbitant increase.

“But for selfish reasons the Eskom management of De Ruyter, does not want to respond to its own employees who are in dire financial distress, by offering a meaningful increase,” said Jim.

NUM national spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu speaking to The Star on Monday, said they were consulting members about the offer that was presented by Eskom on Friday.

COPE called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to urgently institute a commission of inquiry into the allegations of sabotage at Eskom.

“Public Enterprises Minister Minister Pravin Gordhan is always blaming the load shedding on sabotage. It is very important to investigate these allegations because this load shedding is really crippling the economy of this country.

“Unemployment is going to get worse. It is already a crisis. The time frame of this commission must be only 60 days to complete their work,” said COPE spokesperson, Dennis Bloem.

Kevin Mileham, MP, and DA spokesperson for minerals and energy, said load shedding would continue until more generation capacity was added to the grid.

“Currently, it is estimated that we have a shortfall of between 4 000 and 6 000MW capacity that is needed – over and above the already installed generation fleet.

“That means we need to build an additional 4 000 to 6 000MW now. It is clear that Eskom doesn’t have the capacity to do this, which means it must come from independent power producers.

“Minister (Gwede) Mantashe should be moving heaven and earth to make it easier for new generations to be procured and installed at speed,” said Mileham.

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