Cosatu marches against Ramaphosa’s Eskom split

Unions will not stand for the unbundling of the embattled utility, but some believe it's the only thing that can save it.

Hours after Eskom announced its fourth day of load shedding, the Congress of Trade Unions (Cosatu) gathered at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg, to embark on a march against the proposed unbundling of Eskom, which they say will lead to job losses.

Cosatu joins other unions and union federations, such as the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), the National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (Numsa), and the National Union of Mineworkers (Num), in saying no to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent announcement, at his second state of the nation address (Sona) last Thursday, that Eskom will be broken up into three separate entities, responsible for generation, transmission, and distribution respectively.

Unions said this would result in job losses and was a way for the government to move towards the privatisation of the utility.

READ MORE: Unions are ‘holding Eskom – and SA – to ransom’

Numsa’s Irvin Jim said in the Sunday Times his union was preparing to take to the streets in protest over the proposed split, which he said was “not about the future of Eskom” but rather about “preparing” the utility for privatisation.

Saftu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi echoed these sentiments.

“That is exactly where we are going with this – it is privatisation through the back door. The real reason why we are breaking it up is so that they can weaken it first and then sell it. The [independent power producers] IPPs will destroy Eskom’s transmission capacity in this way.”

Num’s treasurer general, Mpho Phakedi, was present at this morning’s march, where he also called the proposed unbundling the road to privatisation, job losses, and exploitation.

Unions have seemed unanimous in their disapproval regarding contracts that have seen South Africa’s energy needs outsourced to IPPs, which they say have entailed Eskom signing deals for power generation at exorbitant prices and may result in job losses.

The unbundling of Eskom, according to these voices, will only continue SA down this path towards privatisation.

The counter-argument, however, is that Eskom is hugely overstaffed and that unions are protecting the jobs of its members at the expense of the country as a whole.

READ MORE: Eskom will ‘cease to exist’ by April – department of public enterprises

An owner of an IPP told The Citizen on Tuesday that Eskom was overstaffed by an estimated 60% and that unbundling was the only thing that could save it.

He has accused unions of fighting for surplus jobs at the power utility at the expense of the economy, the financial health of Eskom, and the private renewable energy sector, saying that these unions were effectively holding the South African economy to ransom.

According to the department of public enterprises, Eskom is technically insolvent and will “cease to exist” by April if it continues on its current trajectory.

(Additional reporting by Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni)

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