Eskom says most workers at power plants, sporadic protests

There haven’t been any meaningful wage increases for workers in the last five years – Numsa spokeswoman.
Workers near generators in the turbine hall at the Kusile coal-fired power station. Image: Bloomberg
South Africa’s power utility said most of its employees are at work, despite some ongoing demonstrations that started last week after a breakdown in wage negotiations, though generation capacity has yet to improve.

“The greater majority of employees are reporting for duty,” Eskom’s media desk said in an emailed reply to questions. There were still some “sporadic protests” and demonstrations on Monday and there’s more generation capacity unavailable than there was in previous days.

Wage negotiations between labour groups and Eskom ended in a deadlock last week, followed by protests at the majority of its coal-fired power stations that generate the bulk of South Africa’s electricity. Power outages that are implemented to protect the grid from a total collapse were extended until Wednesday as the utility builds up emergency reserves.

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There haven’t been any meaningful wage increases for workers in the last five years, while the company’s other costs have increased, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, spokeswoman for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, said in an interview with state broadcaster SABC.

Performance deterioration 
Eskom’s last major wage negotiations in 2018 also resulted into protests that caused power shortages. The National Union of Mineworkers and NUMSA are the biggest labor groups at the utility.

The system had about 22,500 megawatts of generation capacity unavailable at midday on Monday, Eskom said. In the previous three days that amount only ranged between 20,000 and 21,200 megawatts, showing a deterioration in performance.

Strike action at Eskom is illegal because electricity is considered an essential service. “Disciplinary processes will commence once the situation is under control,” Eskom said. “At this point in time our efforts and resources are directed at keeping the lights on.”

The developments have added to Eskom’s struggle to meet electricity demand with unreliable and mostly aging stations, while even its newest plants are prone to defects.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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