Eskom appoints 18 from Solidarity’s list of 300 skilled engineers — while being hamstrung by politics

Eskom has so far appointed 18 people from a list of 300 “turnaround agents” submitted to the power utility by Solidarity, according to Rapport.

The relatively small number of appointees is reportedly due to the utility facing an uphill battle against political leaders over the “inclusivity” of its skills procurement plans.

On Friday, Eskom announced it was developing a digital crowdsourcing tool which would allow people with the required expertise to submit their details online to help address the utility’s severe skill shortage.

“The platform will act as a skills database for Eskom to acquire additional expertise and to resolve its urgent business needs,” the utility said.

“In recent months, Eskom has received an overwhelming response to its call for skilled personnel to come forward to assist in rebuilding skills inside the organisation, and numerous organisations and individuals have come forward to respond to this critical call for national service.”

Eskom CEO André de Ruyter also said the utility was matching the skills with its needs and would appoint suitable candidates “imminently”.

But according to Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann, De Ruyter’s political bosses demanded that the process be more inclusive and ordered him to create the platform.

Andre de Ruyter
André de Ruyter, Eskom CEO

Solidarity sent the list to Eskom and the Department of Public Enterprises in early August 2022, stating it contained some of the country’s leading experts in the field of power.

“We are astonished, not only by the wealth of expertise and knowledge these individuals offer, but also by their willingness and eagerness to tackle South Africa’s power crisis,” said Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann.

That came shortly after minister Pravin Gordhan took Solidarity up on its offer to provide the names of people with the relevant skills and experience Eskom required to help combat its high levels of plant breakdowns.

The individuals on Solidarity’s list have skills covering engineering management, operating management, plant commissioning, outage management, project management, procurement management, materials management, and power station management.

Transformation battle

Solidarity has not minced words over its belief that “reckless” race-based transformation of Eskom’s workforce played a significant role in the exodus of expertise at the utility.

“We cannot discuss the current Eskom skills crisis without looking at the historical context,” said Hermann.

“Eskom was reckless in the implementation of a transformation programme, and since 2002, they offered packages to skilled Eskom workers to make space. In today’s money, approximately R1.8-billion was paid out.”

Those statements have ruffled the feathers of Eskom’s biggest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa), who said it was perplexed by the public enterprise minister accepting Solidarity’s olive branch.

“What recruitment process is this that the minister is personally driving? This is not normal,” Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told The Cape Times.

“There are HR policies in place, and what Pravin is doing is highly irregular. At the same time, this is clearly an attempt to reverse B-BBEE [broad-based black economic empowerment].”

Hlubi-Majola also hit back at Solidarity’s claims that transformation was partially to blame for Eskom’s predicament, stating that many black engineers were more qualified than their white colleagues.

Based on Eskom’s own media statement on the launch of the crowdsourcing platform, it was aware of Numsa’s HR-related concerns.

“In order for Eskom to reap the highest benefit from this diversity of skills, it must also develop a governance mechanism and a platform that will provide equitable opportunity to all those willing to be considered for service,” said the utility’s human resources head Elsie Pule.

“The process will be driven by the needs of Eskom and will follow a standard governance process for fixed-term contracting.”

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Eskom appoints 18 from Solidarity’s list of 300 skilled engineers — while being hamstrung by politics