Eskom management increasingly blames staff in public for reducing the load, but does not provide them with the basics to keep the lights on, according to the Solidarity union.
“There are no spare parts, because there is no money. The staff are trying to improvise and get permission to make improvised plans, but when the papaya hits the fan, the management turns on them and blames them, ”says Tommy Wedderspoon, Solidarity’s power sector coordinator.
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He says morale among Eskom staff is on the ground as unions turn to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), where a dispute will be heard over the “unilateral implementation of salary increases and reduced benefits. “from Eskom in December.
The grip tightens
Eskom announced at 12:20 p.m. on Monday that the predominant load shedding from Stage 2 would intensify to Stage 4 starting at 1:00 p.m., reducing electricity demand by 4,000 megawatts (MW). This is expected to continue until 05:00 on Friday (November 12) when it will return to Stage 2 for another 24 hours.
Stage 4 load shedding leaves homes and businesses without power for two and a half hours at a time up to three times a day, causing traffic jams when traffic lights stop working, causing outages at the location of work and leaves students preparing for tuition and other exams in the dark.
South Africa has been experiencing continuous blackouts since October 23, with a hiatus on November 1 when the country went to the polls for municipal elections. This is the second time since then that it has escalated to Stage 4.
During a hastily convened press conference before the elections, Eskom CEO André de Ruyter said that reducing the burden at that stage was a deliberate step to build up emergency reserves before the elections, so that the elections were not interrupted by the reduction of the load.
Public Enterprise Minister Pravin Gordhan at the same event cited a reported incident in which an Eskom employee ignored a warning light on one of the units at the Kusile power plant. This caused the unit to trip and a loss of more than 600MW in the system.
The employee was fired the next morning, Gordhan said.
De Ruyter, who had previously called for a culture change at Eskom, referred to criminal activities at various power plants.
De Ruyter also announced a system of financial incentives and penalties for power plant managers, based on the performance of their plant.
News24 reported that Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer, during a briefing on October 29, said Eskom had “lost units through sheer negligence.”
On Friday (November 5), Eskom announced the arrest of staff members and a supplier at its Tutuka power plant in connection with the disappearance of spare parts valued at hundreds of millions of rand and the exposure of a union that allegedly stole R100 million. of fuel oil per month in the same station.
De Ruyter said then that Eskom, and in particular Tutuka, continues to be “the scene of crimes perpetrated by some of the same people in charge of the administration of this public institution and by unscrupulous providers.”
Hard rock site
Wedderspoon says it’s unfair to blame staff for Eskom’s problems. Power plant managers who can lose part of their salary when their plant malfunctions are in an impossible position. They don’t have the money to order parts to keep their plant running.
This corresponds with statements made by Eskom’s head of generation, Phillip Dukashe, that the current cash crisis Eskom finds itself in has resulted in a lack of money available to buy spare parts when they are needed.
Dukashe said Eskom also regularly has to choose between making diesel resources available for emergency generation or maintenance at another plant.
Wedderspoon says that under these conditions staff try to make plans and when another plant is idle, they can, for example, cannibalize it for spare parts.
This is done “with approval”, but if things go wrong, they are blamed and told that the approval was not authorized.
Personnel beaten for belt-tightening
The same personnel who are being thrown under the bus do not receive any production bonuses and their benefits have been unilaterally reduced by management. Overtime pay has been reduced and they are no longer paid for travel time to and from work.
This, according to Wedderspoon, means that an Eskom official can, for example, drive to a site two hours away in an Eskom vehicle to do 30-minute work. The person will be busy with Eskom business for four and a half hours, but will be paid only for the 30 minutes spent on the site.
Wedderspoon says that in October Eskom recovered at once what it considered overpayments for travel time paid to employees over a one-year period.
This resulted in deductions of between R3,000 and R20,000 from the wages of individual employees.
He says that the three unions in the bargaining unit, the National Union of Mining Workers (NUM), the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and Solidaridad, will see Eskom at the CCMA in December to resolve a dispute over this. and the unilateral implementation of Eskom. from a 1.5% salary increase in July before it came to a standstill. Solidaridad had been asking for a 7% increase for its members.
By noon on Monday (November 8), Eskom had enough diesel to run its emergency generators for 20 hours, according to spokesman Sikonathi Mantshantsha. More diesel is expected to arrive at its Ankerlig gas turbine power station near Cape Town on Friday and at the Gourikwa gas turbine power station near Mossel Bay a week later. The need to preserve diesel was one of the other reasons given for the current round of load shedding.