- Nov 11, 2008
I loled so hard last night!! BEE at its best.Four years ago South Africans were plunged into an energy crisis. Rolling blackouts became a stark indication of how Eskom had failed to plan for a rapidly developing economy and how the brain drain had taken its toll on the country. The situation called for desperate measures.
Annika Larsen (Carte Blanche presenter): 'In 2006 Eskom embarked on a massive R86-billion build programme. To deal with the skills shortage in South Africa it started a very ambitious recruitment drive: 5000 new staff members over five years. And to deal with Eskom's 2010 employment equity targets, half of them had to be 'black' women.'
'Michelle' (Eskom expat): 'So I was actually contacted and asked if I would come and interview for a position with Eskom.'
'Michelle' is an American citizen who used to work in senior management for a Fortune 500 company in the US. As a post-graduate she earned well over a million rand a year.
'Michelle': 'They did a very good presentation. They talked about the many opportunities you'd have if you'd come here to work on different projects, to excel, to get your hands into many different aspects of the energy industry. So I was told I'd have housing allowance, car allowance, there was even a portion of medical, your cellphone... They really laid it out as to everything you'd have. I was told that the cost of living was much less here than in the US. And that while here we would enjoy the same lifestyle as we would in the US.'
Former MD of Human Resources, Mpho Letlape, held an Eskom careers fair in New York.
'Tyrone' (Eskom expat): 'Somebody from the audience asked her about the crime and she said, 'There's no crime in South Africa.' Those are some of the things that really made me decide to come. I took a pay cut of a substantial amount.'
Annika: 'Having made the decision to take the job at Eskom, the expatriates packed up their lives and flew to South Africa. But they weren't exactly welcomed with open arms. The relocation programme, such as it was, just didn't prepare them for living in Johannesburg.'
Since arriving here, 'Tyron' and his family have been the victims of five armed robberies.
'Tyrone': 'Knowing there was a security issue in the country. And in fact, that we came from another country, it would have been much better for them to put in a security company or an expert to give us an orientation.'
Eskom provided them with a free flat for three months, and a rental car for one month. After that they were on their own. That's when they discovered that the promised car and housing allowance was actually included in the salary.
'Michelle': 'I would have never come without a housing allowance - why? I have a home. I would never have come here without a car allowance, I would have never. And when we got here, they said, 'Oh no - it's part of the package. It's just how you structure your package.' Well that to me doesn't mean housing allowance and car allowance. I would have never come here for that.'
Not only are they earning less than they were promised, Eskom offered very little guidance or support on getting finance for houses and cars. They claim that only one car dealer was prepared to help them.
Settling in was difficult enough, but the real shock was yet to come.
'Tyrone': 'As I went to work I realised they were not ready for me. I had nothing on my desk - no computer, nothing. And I sat there for two months looking around not doing anything. As a professional I felt like I had committed a career suicide.'
'Sally' (Eskom expat): 'My manager wasn't told I was coming. So he wasn't really prepared, and there were misfits in what he expected and what I expected.'
'Michelle': 'There was no job. There was no job description. So I sat.'
Annika: 'I don't understand - they hired you, they head-hunted you, but when you got here....?'
'Michelle': 'I was here probably eight, nine months before I got a job description. I questioned, 'Why would a company spend the money to bring people over and have them sitting? I mean, why? That's such a waste of time, of human capital, of money.''
They believe Eskom is using 'black' foreign employees to meet their BEE targets.
'Michelle': 'Now I thought the purpose of you bringing people over from other areas was to infuse that knowledge from other areas to help build a better Eskom. That's what I thought. But I'm now believing the only reason that I'm here is so that I'm counted as a BEE number. I'm thinking at the end of the day, that's why I'm here - just so that we can tick the BEE box.'
'Tyrone': 'And that kind of ties into all these things about not having a job profile and all those things. They just wanted you to come in and fill those numbers, and we didn't realise that. But now, if you go into the Eskom books we are counted as 'black' South Africans, or as locals. Whereas we are not - we don't qualify for anything.'We asked empowerment expert Dijon de Jager whether 'black' expatriates can qualify for BEE.
Dijon de Jager (MD Mpower Ratings): 'These 'black' people have to show that they are South African citizens, by birth or by descent or by naturalisation provided they became citizens prior to the date of the Constitution which became effective or commenced in 1994.'
'Grace': 'They are telling me that I was hired as local. That was not my intention. If they told me this before I got the job, I wouldn't have come. Because my intention was not to come here as a local South African, because first of all I'm not a South African and even if I want to be a South African and they won't let me be a South African - I'm only a South African at Eskom, because Eskom wants me to be local. Not us, just Eskom.'
By calling them internationally recruited local employees, Eskom don't have to provide the full package of benefits normally afforded to expatriates.
Annika: 'This term internationally recruited local employees. What does that mean? You are not locals - you are expats?'
'Sally': 'We're expatriates and that is what the local managers are having trouble with. They are saying our pay should be higher than what a local guy gets, but at the same time it's not an expatriate package, and we're being taxed twice. We're being taxed here and we're being taxed in our home countries, so the countries where we're resident.'
'Michelle': 'I'm supplementing my income with my savings. I definitely didn't come here to go back. I didn't come here to spend my savings, to spend my nest-egg in the US. I didn't come here to sit and do nothing.'
Annika: 'The Eskom expats say they've exhausted all avenues to try and resolve these problems but nothing has changed. So we decided to ask Eskom management for some answers, but we too have gotten nowhere. They said they were either in the Nersa hearings or on leave and nobody else is available to speak to us.'
'Sally': 'Top management is absent. I have hardly seen any of the top managers. We are left to our own devices so there is no decision-making from the top. There is no clear message. There is no direction or planning, which is the biggest issue and if you ask any of the top management, they will admit to that.'
But it's not just management that are absent. At Megawatt Park offices work starts at 8am. But when we had a look round on Wednesday morning the building was almost deserted. . Virtually every floor was unoccupied, and if we didn't know better, it could have been Sunday. Eventually we did spot a few people standing around chatting.
'Sally': 'There's a lot of practices which take place which would never pass anywhere else. Everybody just keeps quiet and allows certain things to happen, because it's always been done that way. Eskom brought in Price Waterhouse Coopers to investigate the claims made by the expatriate employees. Unfortunately PWC's contract doesn't allow them to speak to us about their findings, but the report speaks for itself.'
The audit highlighted areas of concern with the relocation process, benefits and allowances, remuneration and job profiling, and recommended that each point be reviewed by Eskom.
'Michelle': 'The report came out absolutely confirming all the issues that had been raised - overwhelmingly so. And Eskom said, 'We don't think report is valid.''
Annika: 'Are you going to have to pay them back if you leave before your contract is up?'
'Michelle': 'Yes they want you to pay them for the cost of bringing you over, and whatever cost they incurred. In fact people have said, 'Just leave. Why don't you just leave? Go back where you came from?' Wait a minute, 'You came looking for me - I didn't come looking for you. I didn't even know there was an Eskom until you called me. In all honesty, I am going to go home. But I'm not a quitter, and I will not be defeated. I came too far not to walk away empty. I'm not going to do that.''