SOUTH African unions say they will resist power utility Eskom’s intention to cut 7,000 jobs through natural attrition with strike action.
‘Eskom intends to reduce the headcount from 48,678 to 41,613 by 2023 across all levels through normal attrition,’ Marion Hughes, a senior manager at the utility said in a strategy presentation last Thursday. Eskom has R270bn of state-guaranteed debt and is often cited as a threat to SA’s credit ratings. Its total debt is about R390bn.
The jobs bombshell comes at a tense time during protracted wage negotiations with the unions, which have brought back the spectre of load shedding as the utility tries to mitigate the impact of extended work stoppages over a two-month period.
Goldman Sachs Group warned in September last year that Eskom was the biggest single risk to the economy which is skirting around recession, following a 2.2% contraction in the first quarter. ‘We call upon all workers in the country to unite and embark on a mammoth battle against this cancer,’ said Paris Mashego, the energy sector co-ordinator at the National Union of Mineworkers.
Mashengo said in a statement: ‘The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is deeply angered by Eskom’s decision to retrench 7,000 workers in the next 5 years through voluntary packages. ‘Offering voluntary packages is still retrenchment and it needs to follow Section 189 of the LRA (Labour Relations Act).
‘It is shocking that a parastatal takes such a decision without thorough consultation with the NUM. ‘We will resist any attempt by Eskom to retrench 7,000 workers who are currently facing dire economic conditions.
‘Eskom is now implementing the 2007 outdated World Bank study on reasonable staffing levels at Eskom, which suggest that Eskom is overstaffed by 66% – as such it needs 14,244 staff complement. This study fails to consider the developmental role of parastatals in South Africa, the growth of the business and its customer base.
‘Eskom’s decision is informed by financial constraints they are experiencing lately. How will Eskom fund the retrenchments if they do not have money? ‘The NUM takes a view that says essential service cannot be retrenched and we will not allow Eskom to willy-nilly retrench workers.
‘This bad news comes at the heels of a retrenchment announcement in government departments. It is an open attack on the working class and the poor. ‘We call upon all workers in the country to unite and embark on a mammoth battle against this cancer.’
National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (NUMSA) spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said: ‘Eskom has not communicated this message in the proper structure, which is the strategic forum. It is outrageous that we are hearing through the media that this is what they intend to do.’
Hlubi-Majola said the crisis at Eskom was a result of failure of management. ‘Eskom has been brought to the point of collapse through looting and corruption and mismanagement by senior management. If retrenchments are to happen, they must start with Eskom’s senior management,’ she said.
NUMSA treasurer Mphumzi Maqungo said: ‘As NUMSA, we will use all the necessary methods to defend our members. We don’t believe this thing can be addressed by retrenching workers.’
Earlier, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) said it ‘is alarmed that jobs are disappearing faster than ever before. Virtually every day there are announcements of either immediate or planned retrenchments.’ A SAFTU statement continued: ‘The latest victims are 350 workers to be retrenched at Afro Worldview TV (formerly ANN7) following its removal from the DStv network.
‘And Uber has announced that 9,000 drivers’ jobs are at risk if proposed amendments to the National Land Transport Act are implemented.
‘These latest blows follow: ‘• The threat to 30,000 public service workers’ jobs. ‘• Two-thirds of the 130,000 jobs in the poultry industry are in jeopardy if no urgent action is taken against cheap imports.
‘• Potentially 20,000 jobs are at risk as a result of the proposed sugar tax and the low world price of sugar. ‘• 7,000 jobs that could go in the tobacco and related businesses and on farms if the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill goes through.
‘• There are 45,000 fewer domestic workers than in the second quarter of 2017, down from 1,041,000 to 996,000. ‘• 142 out of 328 packers and boxmakers, who had been placed by labour broker Adcorp at a factory in Springs belonging to Kellogg’s, who were then taken on as permanent workers in line with the Constitutional Court ruling on the contentious “deeming” provision in the Labour Relations Act, saw their pay double and received benefits such as medical aid and a provident fund for the first time – but then they got retrenchment letters!
‘By far the biggest haemorrhaging of jobs has been in the mines:
‘• Lonmin plans to retrench 12,600 workers by 2020, as it closes old and unprofitable mines. ‘• Impala Platinum is planning to reduce its workforce by 13,400 in the next two years because of losses at its Rustenburg mines. ‘• Gold Fields wants to shed 1,560 jobs, at its South Deep mine.
‘• AngloGold Ashanti South Africa seeks to reduce the R3.3 billion annual overhead cost by two-thirds by “rightsizing the workforce”, which could mean potentially 2,000 fewer jobs. ‘This adds up to a total of almost 30,000 mining jobs already gone or in the pipeline, and it comes on top of 68,000 jobs already lost over the last 13 years. This is a terrible blow to the retrenched workers and their dependents, devastation of mining communities and a threat to South Africa’s economic future.
‘Looming behind all these immediate threats to jobs are the warnings of the long-term impact of automation – the “4th industrial revolution” – which academics at Oxford University estimate could make occupations performed by almost 35% of South African workers, roughly 4.5 million people, as potentially automatable soon.
‘All these statistics would be a disaster at any time, but when they are happening at a time when the unemployment rate is already at 37.2%, by the more realistic expanded definition, one of the sixth highest levels in the world, it is a catastrophe, which has plunged millions of South Africans into a pit of poverty and despair!
‘What more shocking proof could there be of the extent of people’s desperation to find a job and an income than the report that when the SAPS embarked on a recruitment drive for the 2018/2019 Basic Police Learning Development Programme intake, they received 517,000 applications!
‘Yet business and government can do nothing but wring their hands about the levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality, while pursuing neoliberal pro-market policies which are the underlying cause of the crisis in the first place and which are making it worse by the day.
‘Employers try to blame the retrenchments on swings in world prices of minerals, currency instability, and a lack of confidence among investors. But they are just excuses – the reality is that all these workers who are losing their jobs and livelihoods are being punished because of a structural crisis within the capitalist economic system for which workers bear no responsibility.
‘The mineowners in particular are motivated purely by a concern for short-term profits, which is much more important to them than workers’ justified demands for higher pay, communities’ calls for money for houses, schools and hospitals, the country’s insistence on reduced pollution of the environment and, most importantly, the long-term future of the South African economy.
‘Their argument that they need to shed jobs and cut wages in order to secure investment in the mines is shared, not surprisingly, by a government led by a mining tycoon billionaire who imagines that mining is a ‘sunrise’ industry, which, he hopes, will attract $100 billion in foreign investment into South Africa in the next five years.
‘Yet all that he offers as a solution is a Jobs Summit, which he hopes will shift responsibility for this crisis on to the shoulders of the leaders of business and labour.
He expects workers to negotiate some solution with the very class which is responsible for the crisis in the first place – white monopoly capitalists. ‘If it achieves anything at all it will yet again be a agreement between a chicken and a pig to cook a breakfast. Business will be the chicken to provide the eggs. Workers will be the pig to provide the bacon at the cost of their lives.
‘Even COSATU, whose leaders have signed many such chicken and pig pacts have been – most recently the agreement on a poverty national minimum wage and the law to further restrict the right to strike – has bowed to pressure from their ranks and threatened to pull out of the jobs summit.’
SAFTU added: ‘SAFTU will reject any deal that continues to punish the workers for their bosses’ crimes. The capitalist elite has shown time and again that they will never pursue policies to create jobs, abolish poverty and end inequality. They will never agree to any changes which reduce their power and wealth.
‘They will never accept any curbs on their freedom to move their wealth around the world into tax havens, dodge tax payments and invest their capital only where it yields the quickest and biggest profits. They will continue to exploit workers and consumers. ‘The ANC government will continue to follow the dictates of the credit ratings agencies and international financial institutions and implement policies like the Gear and the National Development Plan to keep the status quo in place.
‘The only way out of the crisis has to be through a mass movement of the working class based on a programme guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism to defeat all the capitalists’ attacks workers and the poor.
‘We must fight for the nationalisation of the mining, financial and manufacturing monopolies, and the land, and put them under the democratic control and management of the working class and the community, in line with the aspirations expressed in the Freedom Charter.
‘Only then can investment be directed to where it is needed – to build manufacturing industry, create full employment, pay workers a living minimum wage, end the two-tier service delivery regime, eradicate poverty and create an equal society in which wealth and power is democratically held by the people.’