Saftu Condemns Energy Privatisation!


The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has condemned the privatisation of energy generation to ‘capitalist companies’ and expressed its support for social ownership of the renewable energy project.

Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi came out guns blazing against the introduction of independent power producers (IPPs) as part of the country’s energy mix. Vavi expressed concern over the potential of job losses that would result from the ‘imposition of IPPs’ into the national power grid. Vavi said Saftu backed the demand of Numsa and NUM for the IPPs to be scrapped as ‘they threaten job security in the country’.

Energy Minister Jeff Radebe announced last week that a new bidding window for the next phase of independent power producers (IPPs) would be launched in November, which he expected would inject R40bn-R50bn investment into the country, add an estimated 1800MW of electricity to the national grid and create at least 5,000 jobs during construction. These projects would add to the 27 renewable contracts which he signed earlier this year.

‘Saftu is in favour of using renewable resources – sun, wind and water – to generate electricity and reduce the reliance of coal, which is both non-renewable and harmful to the environment and the health of the people around coal-fired power stations,’ said general secretary Vavi. ‘However,’ he said, ‘the transition has to be done in a way that protects the livelihoods of mining and energy workers and the lives of communities most affected by environmental pollution.

‘Radebe’s plans will do the opposite. 40,000 jobs will be lost, as mines, mostly in Mpumalanga, are closed. ‘Thousands of families will suffer poverty and unemployment, in a nation already with 36% (joblessness) and more than half the population living in abject poverty,’ he said.

Vavi was of the view that capitalism was the cause of global warming, climate change and the destruction of ecosystems. He said workers should not pay the price for their bosses’ irresponsibility by losing their jobs in mines and power stations, because of handing over power generation to IPPs.

‘Saftu rejects the minister’s false narrative that IPP’s will create 61,000 jobs.

‘Most existing renewable energy companies do not employ many workers, when compared to Eskom, and do not offer the same salaries, benefits or improved working conditions. ‘That is why NUMSA and Transform SA recently sought, but were refused, a court interdict against the further privatisation of energy generation, from renewable sources to IPPs.’

Vavi said they agreed with NUMSA’s view that the path to a low carbon economy had to be based on worker-controlled, democratic social ownership of key means of production and means of subsistence. ‘There is a need for long term collective planning of wealth and production and how needs are met.’

Vavi said privatisation would do nothing to reverse South Africa’s crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, but would only make it worse. ‘Saftu calls for a united response led by NUMSA and NUM to the privatisation of energy generation and for a total rejection of Eskom’s proposed 0% wage increase. ‘The issue of a just transition from carbon economy to renewable energy will form an important element of the forthcoming Working Class Summit,’ the Saftu leader concluded.

The National Union of Mineworkers will discuss job losses in the industry, the health and safety of workers and corruption at state-owned companies at its national congress this month, it said last Thursday. The NUM, formed 35 years ago, said its 16th congress on June 20-22 will also discuss the government’s decision to sign deals with IPPs on behalf of electricity company Eskom, a move it said amounts to attempts to privatise the state-owned utility, which would lead to job losses. ‘The issue of job losses, our government stance on IPPs, and the rot in SOEs (state-owned enterprises) will feature prominently in the congress discussions,’ the NUM said.

The government in April signed renewable energy contracts with independent power producers, which it said would unlock R56 billion in investments, but which unions insisted would lead to massive job losses in the coal sector. Most of South Africa’s electricity is currently coal-fired.

‘We view this capitalist IPPs deal as a backdoor privatisation of Eskom. ‘The plan is to privatise 42 per cent of Eskom by 2030, masquerading as the implementation of clean energy,’ the NUM said. ‘If the IPPs have got power to generate, let them stand alone and compete with Eskom. We must defend these jobs.’

NUM said it is concerned about fatalities in South Africa’s mining industry, which it blamed on companies’ reckless pursuit of profit. ‘It is unacceptable that mineworkers are denied their basic human right to work in an environment that guarantees their safety and that instead they are expected to go to work to die,’ NUM said.

The mineworkers union, which is affiliated to labour federation Cosatu, a key ally of the ruling African National Congress, said its congress would also deliberate on what resources it could make available to bolster the ANC’s campaign for next year’s general election.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) says the decision to suspend the services of JIC, a contractor at Optimum (one of the businesses owned by the controversial Gupta family), would affect 480 workers. The NUM said it is worried about the fate of its members at JIC Mining Services after business rescue practitioners at troubled Optimum coal mine served the contractor with a letter suspending its services last week.

Optimum is one of the businesses owned by the controversial Gupta family, which have been placed under rescue. Last Wednesday the NUM said the decision to suspend the services of JIC, a contractor at Optimum, would affect 480 workers.

‘It is important to highlight that JIC Mining Services is a subsidiary of Tegeta Exploration.

‘As such it is compelling that the business rescue practitioners treat employees of JIC Mining Services equal to employees of both Optimum and Koornfontein mines.’ Optimum and Koornfontein are also owned by Tegeta Exploration and Resources.

Since fleeing the country earlier this year, the businesses belonging to the Gupta brothers have been beset by misfortune. ‘When Optimum was placed under business rescue process… NUM viewed that as a move that will bring financial stability and allow workers to continue to sell their labour but it seems like the business rescue practitioners see that as a business opportunity as there is no substantial progress,’ the labour union said.

The NUM said workers at JIC have not been paid their salaries for the last two months and called for a rescue plan ‘before the company is liquidated since the sequences of events are leading to that direction’.

• The Public Service Association (PSA) announced on Monday that it would embark on a strike next week after public sector wage negotiations failed to broker a mutually desirable agreement.

This comes after the union spurned the offer government made in May.

Negotiations had been rocky at the Public Sector Coordinating Bargaining Council as far back as April.

In a letter to the office of the director general, general manager of the PSA Ivan Fredericks said the union indicated that its attempts at resolving disputes with employers failed on May 14 2018. ‘Therefore, please take note that a seven-day notice is hereby served in terms of section 64 of the Labour Relations Act as amended for the PSA to commence with strike action,’ Fredericks said. Fredericks said strike action would commence from June 11 2018.

He said the PSA is, however, prepared to resolve remaining disputes through negotiations to avert strike action. The union represents about 238,000 employees in the public service.