Eskom wants to retrench 500 white maintenance workers

Solidarity says Eskom wants to get rid of 500 white male employees — most of which do maintenance work — in the next two years.

The trade union has revealed this forms part of the utility’s latest Employment Equity (EE) Plan for 2023 to 2025.

The organisation’s legal team has issued a legal letter to Eskom calling for a moratorium on race-based appointments at the utility to help address the power crisis.

Solidarity pointed out that there was an urgent need in South Africa for the deployment of the best skills in jobs regardless of race.

It said there were both competent black and white artisans at Eskom and in the industry.

“Those are the people Eskom should recruit, based on their ability to help solve the power crisis, without looking at the colour of their skin,” the organisation stated.

Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann said the EE plan did not reveal how Eskom would address its skills challenges but was all about skin colour at various job levels.

“These absurd race targets come amid the fact that power station maintenance is one of Eskom’s major challenges,” said Hermann.

“Eskom should now focus on one thing only, and that is not race, but power. South Africans do not need race targets but light in their homes and power for their businesses.”

Dirk Hermann, Solidarity CEO

Hermann said that race-based targets discouraged existing Eskom staff members and also implied that competent white persons could not apply for jobs at the utility to help solve the crisis.

“Also, it makes it nearly impossible to appoint some of the hundreds of experts who have offered their services to assist Eskom because they have the wrong skin colour,” Hermann said.

The hundreds of experts Hermann referred to are those that have put up their hands to assist Eskom with skills and expertise as part of a skills crowdsourcing effort.

For its part, Solidarity submitted a list of 300 such engineers and technicians to Eskom and the Department of Public Enterprises several months ago.

The list is exempt from any requirements of race and includes numerous people who had left the utility under its aggressive black economic empowerment (BEE) policies.

Eskom and the department previously explained that severe skills shortages — particularly with regard to power station management and maintenance — had contributed significantly to load-shedding.

In November 2022, Eskom said it had already shortlisted 153 people who submitted their details to its database as potentially active, skilled, and willing candidates.

Tariff increases would not be necessary without BEE

Solidarity maintains that BEE is costing Eskom billions of rand and its recently-announced 19% tariff increase would not have been necessary if the utility did not have to meet all the racial requirements involved in procurement.

The organisation said Eskom had a long history of aggressive race-based employment policies.

“Between 1994 and 2002, at least 10,207 white persons left Eskom,” Solidarity said. “From about 2000, Eskom has paid R1.8 billion in terms of current rand value for packages to get rid of white people.”

“This rapid loss of skills led to a huge loss of expertise and institutional knowledge.”

Hermann said that Eskom had apparently learnt nothing from this experience. “It is still pursuing its race programme, even in the dark,” he stated.

Solidarity’s letter said it reserved the right to go to court should Eskom continue with the implementation of its race-based employment targets.

The organisation is also readying a court case to get Eskom exempted from BEE  requirements.

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Eskom wants to retrench 500 white maintenance workers