Eskom Mass Dismissals As Oakvalley Farm Workers Battle ‘Apartheid’ Conditions

South African police prepare to attack striking farmworkers at the Oakvalley Estate farm in Grabouw

TROUBLE is brewing at Eskom’s Kusile Power Station in South Africa, following the mass dismissal of hundreds of outsourced workers after protests threatened operations at the station.

However, according to a community group, the Waya Waya Community Movement, 500 workers employed by a company contracted by Eskom to provide security personnel were fired after continuous protests over unpaid wages. Eskom disputes the number, saying ‘less than 400’ protested.

The group claimed that wage delays were caused by Kusile which, according to them, had for the past eight months been struggling to pay the company, Hlanganani, on time. This resulted in late payments and eventually no salaries.

The contract has since been terminated, according to Eskom, but the group demands that the workers be absorbed by Eskom, claiming it was the utility’s fault they were fired.

‘We want to see the workers retained at Kusile Power Station – such a cruel and heartless legacy of deliberately creating unemployment in our surrounding communities cannot be tolerated,’ a spokesperson for the group said.

Kusile is the third-largest power station in the world, followed by Eskom’s Medupi Power Station. The construction of both stations has been an ongoing process mired by delays since 2007 and 2008. The projects’ costs have already reached over R300 billion, with a further R18 billion needed for each one’s completion.

Eskom spokesperson Dikatso Mothae said the utility could neither confirm nor deny whether Eskom failed to pay the company on time numerous times, but he said the matter between Eskom and Hlanganani is now in the courts.

‘Eskom is committed to paying Hlanganani. However, Hlanganani, being a contractor at Eskom Kusile for a few years, is well aware of the payment processes that need to be followed,’ said Mothae.

‘Eskom would like to state that the matter of contract termination is sub judice, as Hlanganani has referred the matter to their attorneys, who have indicated they are referring the matter for adjudication.’

Mothae is blaming the workers for Eskom’s problems claiming the numerous times Hlanganani security guards went on strike made it impossible for the site to operate optimally, and that the company and its employees had already entered into a peace accord but it was ‘violated by the workers going on strike again this month.

‘Kusile management notified Hlanganani that any strikes, legal or not, place the Kusile site in a vulnerable state,’ said Mothae.

However, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has released a statement reacting to reports that the South African Treasury is considering a ‘debt swap’ to save the struggling power utility Eskom from collapse.

While Eskom had lobbied for such a swap prior to the February budget speech, asking for relief to the tune of R100 million, both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni rejected the option at the time.

But reports are circulating that talk of a debt swap is now ‘resurging’.

The DA issued a statement on Monday saying it ‘strongly opposes this idea, as it would likely send the country down the dark path of a downgrade to junk status.’

While South Africa is already rated as below investment grade (commonly referred to as ‘junk status’) by ratings agencies S&P Global and Fitch, the other main ratings agency Moody’s has so far refrained from downgrading the country to below investment grade, although there are fears that this might happen when they next consider the country’s status in November.

This comes amid warnings from Moody’s that Ramaphosa must appoint a credible cabinet to restore confidence and enable economic growth.

The DA statement continued: ‘Reports of this debt swap come after President Cyril Ramaphosa ruled out this option earlier this year. This proposed plan will not address the underlying problems at Eskom, it’s simply a temporary solution to the massive governance failures at the utility.

‘As it is the minister of finance who has the authority to make this decision, the DA calls on Minister Tito Mboweni and the National Treasury to come clean and give an urgent update on government’s reported plans on a debt swap.

‘The DA has also called for a debate of national importance on Eskom’s financial crises … a debt swap will not solve the problems at the power utility as it is simply an attempt to hide the true state of Eskom’s dire financial affairs.’

The DA says a debt swap of this nature ‘is not feasible for South Africa’s standing in the long-term, as it will result in an estimated R100 billion in investment to flow out of the country.’

Their statement concludes: ‘The DA will continue to keep a close eye on the developments at Eskom, as we maintain that the challenges at Eskom are far greater than the ANC government would want the public to believe.’

  • Over one million South African domestic workers could soon be able to claim money from the Compensation Fund if they are injured or contract a disease at their place of work. Their families will also be able to claim if they die due to work-related injuries or illnesses.

This follows a landmark case in the North Gauteng High Court this week, where Sylvia Mahlangu – daughter and sole dependent of Maria Mahlangu, a domestic worker who died at her employer’s home – won in a case against the Department of Labour. Mahlangu was claiming compensation for her mother’s death.

The Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) expressly excluded domestic workers employed in private homes from the definition of ‘employee’, effectively cutting domestic workers off from claiming from the Compensation Fund.

All other employees, or their dependents, can claim from the fund when sustaining occupation injuries, illnesses or death.

But the High Court found fault, declaring that it was unconstitutional for domestic workers to be excluded as ‘employees’.

Last year, the Department of Labour proposed to make amendments to COIDA, which could include domestic employees in the Act.

But this week’s case is still significant. After seven years of litigation, the High Court ruling legitimised the argument in a court of law, according to Kelebogile Khunou, a researcher at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) that represented Mahlangu.

‘We also want the matter to be declared retrospectively, in other words that it would be applicable to Sylvia’s case,’ said Khunou.

If this declaration goes into effect, then the Department of Labour would need to enforce employers to register domestic workers under COIDA and pay a percentage of their employees’ wages into the fund.

  • CSAAWU members have been on strike at the Oakvalley Estate farm since 6th May. The workers are pursuing three demands:

1. That the employer increases the minimum wage from the current R160 a day to R250 a day

2. An end to the use of labour brokers

3. An end to apartheid, and that the single-sex hostels which are reserved for Black/African workers be demolished and replaced with family units.

The South African Federation of Trades Unions (SAFTU) has issued a powerful statement calling for a national and worldwide boycott of all Oakvalley Estate produce. It said:

‘This strike has exposed the brutal attacks on workers’ right to strike that is enshrined in the new amendments to the labour laws. The strike demonstrates equally that apartheid and racism is still alive 25 years after it was declared dead on 27 April 1994.

The Oakvalley bosses have employed the most intransigent, arrogant and dismissive attitude possible. Management has not moved an inch on any of the issues that led to the strike.

1) On the first demand, they insist that they have already increased the minimum wage in line with the NEDLAC agreement on the National Minimum Wage and are not willing to entertain the demand, they are not moving an inch.

The bosses are saying they increased the wages in January 2019. However, this was only to comply with the recent National Minimum Wage rise to just R160 a day or R18 an hour! SAFTU has already rejected this slavery National Minimum Wage as only serving to entrench the colonial and apartheid wage structure and the income inequalities that have made our country the most unequal society on earth.

2) They are refusing to do away with the use of the labour brokers and are not willing to entertain a discussion on how seasonal work could be managed to guarantee more job security.

3) They have flatly refused to scrap apartheid in the workplace. Whites enjoy the best accommodation and live with their families; coloured workers have second class houses and stay with their families; Black African workers stay in single-sex hostels sleeping on iron beds in “filthy, flea-ridden barracks” as Hugh Masekela used to sing.

They won’t budge! In line with the draconian rules contained in the amendments to the LRA that says the CCMA must set picket rules, the CCMA has imposed a rule that the workers can picket, but they must be about 1.2km away from the company gate. This renders the strike utterly ineffective.

The bosses have employed scab labour taking full advantage of the fact that locally 10 million unemployed workers are roaming the streets. In addition, there are other workers more desperate for any kind of a job from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and other neighbouring countries. The combination of the picket rules imposed by the CCMA and scabs means the strike does not affect them whatsoever! The bosses have grown even more arrogant!

SAFTU appreciates the overwhelming support the workers have received from the United Front representing the working class communities in Grabouw. SAFTU is grateful that many working class-based political parties such as the SRWP and Land Party have provided help to the workers.

SAFTU calls for the intensification of the strike and solidarity action to put management under pressure. In this regard, we call for the boycott of all the products of Oakvalley Estate.

These products are flowers used by Woolworths, Shoprite Checkers and Spar. We call on the management of these companies to make it clear to Oakvalley that apartheid has been declared an evil against humanity by the United Nations.

They must refuse to stock flowers and other products from Oakvalley Estate on their shop shelves until they have been given a guarantee that first the apartheid practices have been ended that the company resolves the dispute with the union CSAAWU.

We also call on all workers employed by these companies to refuse to touch any product of Oakvalley Estate.

We call on all South Africans to boycott all the wines produced at Oakvalley Estate. A big chunk of these wines gets exported to various parts of Europe and the world. We call on all the unions in Europe and other countries to boycott all wines produced by Oakvalley.

We shall write to all of the unions in these countries to inform that apartheid, which they played such an essential role in ending, is still allowed to persist in the countryside of South Africa.

We call on all South Africans not to allow apartheid to continue in Oakvalley and other farms in South Africa. They must do this by refusing to buy produce with the label Oakvalley Estate.

We call on all political parties and unions within and outside SAFTU to continue providing support to the Oakvalley workers. We request more marches and demonstrations in support of the workers. We call on rights bodies such as the Gift of the Givers to provide humanitarian aid to the striking farmworkers.