Message received — Gordhan accepts Solidarity’s offer to help bring back engineers to fix Eskom

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan has written to Solidarity asking the labour union to provide a list of engineers and other workers that can assist with Eskom’s skills shortage.

Gordhan’s plea comes after Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann sent a letter to the minister on 25 May 2022 in which he reiterated the union’s past offers to help provide expertise to the utility to fix a lack of skills at its power stations.

“Solidarity has previously offered its assistance with the redeployment of skilled and experienced engineering and technical South African citizens to assist with the said challenge at Eskom, and we hereby wish to do so once again,” Hermann wrote.

“Solidarity will engage our membership and supporters to assemble those technical skills you referred to in your budget speech.”

Gordhan replied in a letter to Solidarity on 14 July 2022, thanking the union for its willingness to mobilise the required skills.

The minister said the utility needed power station engineers with electrical, maintenance, mechanical, nuclear, and system skills, in addition to coal and nuclear station operators and senior artisans.

“Due to the urgency of assistance required from Eskom, can you kindly provide the list of names of engineers and technical experts that can be deployed to Eskom to address the generation performance challenges facing the company,” Gordhan wrote.

“I have also referred your offer of assistance to the board and management of Eskom.”

Pravin Gordhan South African Minister of Public Enterprises 1
Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Public Enterprises

Eskom has repeatedly decried the loss of skills at its power stations, which has supposedly impacted its maintenance programmes, resulting in weaker generation performance and worsening load-shedding.

One of the most well-known recent cases is the costly delay in replacing steam generators at the Koeberg nuclear power station, which was seemingly caused by a lack of proper planning.

Solidarity’s offer to help Eskom with the required expertise stretches back three years to 2019 when it first started collecting the names and qualifications of people who could help the utility.

Hermann told MyBroadband that the initial list of people willing to assist comprised about 705 specialists, of which 30% were engineers, 50% were specialised artisans and technicians, and the remaining 20% had general skills.

Together, they held 731 accredited qualifications and around 500 years of work experience.

That list was handed over to Eskom and directly to minister Gordhan by Hermann himself, but nothing came from it.

“This year, we again had discussions with Eskom, and we realised out of these engagements that there was a need to bring skills from outside [the company],” Hermann said.

After Gordhan mentioned Eskom had a shortage of technical and engineering skills during his budget speech, Solidarity wrote to the minister and again put out a request for willing individuals to add their names to its list.

Since its latest request, it received the names of a further 450 skilled people willing to help.

“That is a total of around 1,000 people that have already put up their hands and said they would help,” Hermann said.

Dirk Hermann, Solidarity chief executive

Solidarity will now give another week for any other potential candidates to come forward, and it expects a few hundred more people to put up their names.

From there, the union plans to appoint an expert panel to reduce the number to 100 people with the best skills.

“We shall then have those with the top skills and we shall divide them between generation, transmission, and distribution,” Hermann said.

“These will be people with decades of experience. Most of them will have double qualifications, and they will have the most sought-after skills available in the country”.

“These 100 ‘turnaround agents’ will have the capability to make a meaningful contribution to turn Eskom around.”

“The question is whether there truly is the political will from the government and Eskom to receive these people with open arms and give them the opportunity to help.”

Radical race-based programme to blame

Hermann said one of the leading causes of the current skills crisis at Eskom was its “reckless” race-based transformation programme.

“From 2000, they made exit packages available to skilled Eskom workers worth around R1.8 billion in today’s terms,” he said.

“The loss of skills also resulted in a lack of institutional knowledge, and it was just too much, too fast.”

Nonetheless, Hermann said the people willing to assist held no grudges over how Eskom recklessly went about with skills in service of a racial ideology.

Hermann’s letter to the minister and Gordhan’s response are embedded below.

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Message received — Gordhan accepts Solidarity’s offer to help bring back engineers to fix Eskom