Eskom can’t bring back the skills to stop load-shedding — here’s why

Eskom can’t simply accept the offers of 70 skilled pensioners to return to the power utility and work for free, chief executive André de Ruyter has said.

Responding to questions during a recent media briefing, De Ruyter said that they must consider transformation, liability, and accountability in navigating the offers from these retirees.

MyBroadband asked Eskom about the nearly two-year-old offer from its retired engineers after executives stated that the power utility has skills challenges.

Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer said that it’s not a case of lack of talent or capacity, but a lack of training in how to handle the many crises occurring at their power stations.

In May 2020, a group of retired engineers comprising former Eskom employees offered to help fix the problems at the power utility for free.

Eskom said it would consider the CVs individually and welcome those who have specialist skills to help without compensation.

“Anyone else, whatever race, gender, who has a skill and willing to do the same can approach and will be considered,” Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said at the time.

However, nothing came of this.

Instead, De Ruyter said they are busy completing a comprehensive skills audit.

“Where we have identified skills gaps, we will bring in the appropriate skills that are required to improve the performance of our generation system,” he said.

De Ruyter thanked the retirees for their patriotism in offering to serve without compensation.

“But working without compensation creates a whole range of problems in terms of liability, accountability, and being engaged and subject themselves to discipline as it may be required,” he stated.

“One’s got to be quite careful in navigating some of these offers.”

De Ruyter said that although they would not disregard the offers, it would be hugely oversimplifying to say they could bring on 70 pensioners and solve all their problems.

“We will proceed deliberately. We will have regard to our continued need to demonstrate our commitment to transformation,” stated De Ruyter.

“But we will also make sure that we are able to bring in appropriate skills and also skills that can transfer skills to others.”

Jan Oberholzer
Jan Oberholzer, Eskom COO

Eskom’s skills controversy dates back to 2008 when trade union Solidarity informed the National Energy Regulator of South Africa that at least 346 engineers and artisans left Eskom in twelve months.

Instead of emphasising retaining technical skills to coach new engineers and artisans, Eskom drove away many white engineers and technical staff to comply with labour equity targets.

In 2015, media reports revealed that Eskom was planning to cut the number of white engineers and managers and decrease the number of white tradespeople.

Cutting skilled white employees was needed to comply with the strict provisions in South Africa’s Equity Act.

The Department of Labour required Eskom to set quotas so the demographics of its workforce would more closely match that of the country at large.

Eskom had to submit a plan to reach these targets by 2020.

In 2019, another report surfaced that Eskom was planning to drastically cut the number of skilled white engineers and managers to meet its affirmative action targets.

Eskom allegedly targeted white employees, including engineers, tradespeople, academically qualified staff, and middle management.

Eskom denied that it had a plan to eliminate white staff, but many white employees resigned as they felt affirmative action was limiting their career prospects.

According to Solidarity, Eskom’s recruitment policy, promotion policy, labour equity quotas, and procurement policy made the environment at the power utility impossible for white engineers and artisans to get promotions and excel in their careers.

The trade union said that regardless of race, Eskom desperately needed to keep its skilled engineers and staff to turn the company around.

Now read: Exodus of engineers at Eskom

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Eskom can’t bring back the skills to stop load-shedding — here’s why