We are not getting rid of white engineers – Eskom

Eskom has distanced itself from a report that the company wants to cut the number of skilled white engineers and managers to ensure it meets its affirmative action targets.

The report made headlines this weekend after it stated that Eskom wants to reduce its qualified white workforce by 1,308 over the next year.

The skilled white employees which were said to be targeted include engineers, tradespeople, academically-qualified staff, and middle management.

Eskom told MyBroadband that the report is “an old article that was originally published in 2015 and it has been repackaged as new to fit into the narrative that Eskom is purging white engineers”.

It added that Africa Check, a facts verification organisation, dismissed the claims in 2017 as inaccurate.

“In November 2014, the South African department of labour sent Eskom a report telling it to set numerical targets so that the makeup of its workforce would more closely match that of the country at large. The company had to submit a plan to reach those targets by 2020,” said Africa Check.

However, they did not specify a number, and Eskom told Africa Check there was no plan to get rid of white staff.

South African law also bars a company from laying off a worker in order to meet affirmative action targets, stated Africa Check.

Threats to Eskom

While Eskom said it has no plans to lay off white staff to meet affirmative action goals, trade union Solidarity said Eskom is struggling to recruit and hold onto skilled engineers – particularly white employees.

“Eskom’s recruitment policy, promotion policy, EE targets and AA appointments, and procurement policy has made the environment in Eskom impossible for white engineers and artisans to get promotions and excel in their careers,” said Solidarity.

Solidarity said that Eskom must also appoint the best engineers for the urgent challenges it is facing.

“If two candidates have the same expertise and one is white and one is black, then appoint the black candidate. But for the interim, they must employ those who can help to restore Eskom to a functional profit-making entity.”

Solidarity added that the turnaround time for spares orders, the poor quality of spares supplied, and the pricing of these spares were additional problems at Eskom.

“BBBEE red tape when it comes to procurement has made it impossible for these workers to do their job properly.”

Keep all skilled engineers

The trade union added that regardless of race, Eskom desperately needs to keep its skilled engineers and staff if it is to turn itself around.

“Minister Pravin Gordhan has acknowledged that Eskom is in its current state due to a skills and knowledge shortage,” said Solidarity.

“We don’t say that only white engineers can save Eskom, as there are many good engineers in Eskom. What we are saying is that Eskom must do a skills audit and determine what they need, taking the institutional knowledge of these employees into consideration.”

It added that the government should review its policy around employment equity targets for Eskom and relax the pressure it is putting on the organisation.

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We are not getting rid of white engineers – Eskom