Illegal strikes at Eskom holding South Africa ransom

Unprotected strikes at various Eskom power stations have intensified, and protestors attacked the homes of several plant operators with petrol bombs overnight.

Eskom CEO André de Ruyter provided details on the affected power stations during a last-minute media briefing on Tuesday, 28 June 2022.

He said that eight of the utility’s plants are impacted by staff shortages and violent protests, with managerial staff having to cover the duties of employees that have stayed away from work due to intimidation.

The power stations experiencing violent protests include Hendrina and Matla in Mpumalanga and Lethabo in the Free State.

De Ruyter said that only 20% of Hendrina’s staff are on shift due to severe intimidation, including the torching of a vehicle on one of its access roads.

He specified that Matla wasn’t experiencing any physical disruptions at the time, but intimidation caused a significant employee stay-away.

He added that one such act of intimidation saw an Eskom contingency worker’s farm in the area set alight.

Things appear to be worse at the Lethabo power station, where protestors attacked the homes of several plant operators with petrol bombs overnight.

De Ruyter noted that while burning tyres and debris blocking access roads to the Tutuka power station had to be cleared, the plant is not currently experiencing any disruptive strike action.

Staff shortages at the Arnott, Camden, Duvha, and Kriel power stations have resulted in managerial staff having to work long hours to carry out the duties of those who had stayed away from work.

Union leaders have condemned acts of violence and intimidation but said they have no control over their members’ actions.

De Ruyter commented that the strike “appears to have been coordinated, but not condoned by union leadership.”

André de Ruyter, Eskom CEO

Eskom’s human resources general manager, Thulani Ngele, said that the power utility hopes to meet with union leaders by the end of the week to discuss a solution.

The intensified strike action is surprising as, on Monday, 27 June, Eskom stated that while the protests continued, the greater majority of employees were still reporting for duty.

Eskom said there were still some “sporadic protests” and demonstrations at the time. However, it appears things stepped up a notch overnight.

According to Eskom, the strikes are by definition unprotected and illegal because electricity provision is an essential service.

Protests broke out at Eskom’s power stations on Thursday, 23 June 2022, following a breakdown in wage negotiations between the power utility and labour unions.

Shortly after the protests broke out, Eskom warned that the strikes at its power plants would cause intensified load-shedding if allowed to continue.

This appears to have come to fruition as De Ruyter also revealed the risk of South Africa being plunged into Stage 6 load-shedding to meet peak demand in the evening.

Ten of Eskom’s generating units — representing over 6,000MW of capacity — including three each at Medupi and Tutuka, broke down overnight between Monday and Tuesday, 27 and 28 June.

Kriel, Kusile, Kendal, and Duvha power stations also lost one unit each.

De Ruyter explained that the breakdowns pose a significant risk to the country’s power grid, saying that Stage 6 could be averted if Eskom returns 3,400MW of capacity by 17:00.

Now read: Eskom power cuts delay repairs of overloads and faults caused by load-shedding

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Illegal strikes at Eskom holding South Africa ransom