Eskom’s plan to split into 3 units challenged by unions

The plan to unbundle Eskom into three separate entities is being challenged by workers unions.

According to Rapport, labour unions Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) have lodged grievances with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

This arises from Eskom supposedly not consulting with them over its plans to redeploy employees from its Group Technology division to the three new entities.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has also opposed the plan.

Solidarity union representative Thinus Jacobs told Rapport that the move affects around 1,400 workers.

Jacobs said some of the redeployments made no sense, with one example being a senior geologist at the Megawatt Park head office in Sunninghill being moved to the position of production engineer at a power station 200km away.

Other workers were redeployed from the company’s head office to Koeberg Power Station in Cape Town.

Jacobs said these personnel were originally told they would only be required to move in 2021, to allow their children to finish the current school year.

They have now been threatened with non-payment of their salaries and charges of unauthorised absenteeism if they do not report for work at their new locations immediately.

The unions have also lodged a collective grievance at Eskom, while Solidarity has threatened to seek an urgent court order to stop the process.

Unbundling could take years

Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan revealed a road map for Eskom’s unbundling into Generation, Transmission, and Distribution units in October 2019.

The move forms part of a turnaround plan of the utility as it battles with R450 billion in debt and struggles with maintenance of its ageing plants.

Gordhan’s road map indicated the unbundling process could be done by the end of 2020.

However, Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter recently told energy expert Chris Yelland that the full legal separation of the entities is only expected during 2023.

“The precipitous legal unbundling of Eskom creates a number of very significant risks, and if we don’t address these, we might end up with a very messy legal, commercial, and also financial situation which could significantly delay the restructuring,” De Ruyter stated.

Load reduction implemented

Electricity demand has dropped substantially since the start of South Africa’s lockdown, which meant Eskom has not needed to implement load-shedding for several months.

However, the utility has in recent weeks been cutting power to selected high-density residential areas in Gauteng during peak hours, a practice it calls “load reduction”.

Eskom has been careful to separate this exercise from load-shedding, which it has assured South Africans will not be a major threat over the winter season.

It began restricting the power supply in certain areas in Gauteng on 12 May during peak periods between 05:00 and 09:00, and between 17:00 and 20:00.

This was done to address abnormally high energy demand during these periods, which threatened to cause damage to the power utility’s infrastructure.

Now read: Why Eskom’s Gauteng power cuts are not load-shedding

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Eskom’s plan to split into 3 units challenged by unions