Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

While Eskom has stuck to its plan of reducing its headcount through "natural attrition", there is confusion among trade unions about its intentions.

In 2016 the World Bank recommended that Eskom reduce its staff from 47,000 to 14,200 in line with similar power utility operations in South America in order to contain costs. The National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) recently said the company needed to cut at least 6,000 posts that cost it R3.8bn annually.

This week, cash-strapped Eskom maintained it had no plans to cut staff numbers despite increased pressure to do so by the energy regulator and experts. Instead, it has stuck to its strategy of managing the reduction of its headcount by "natural attrition" while retaining core and critical skills.

Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said the company’s plan to reduce its headcount to 36,746 by 2021-22 was dependent on the assumption it would lose 4% of its total staff due to resignations or retirement annually. The majority of Eskom’s employees, at 41%, are aged 30 to 39. Those nearing retirement, at age 60 and over, account for 6.17%.

"By 2020, over 10,000 people would have left Eskom without resorting to retrenchments. If people leave, we’ll fill the posts internally and the numbers will go down through natural attrition," Phasiwe said.

Although Eskom did not have to inform unions of its plans as in the case of proposed retrenchments, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA complained that they were in the dark about its plans.

Phasiwe confirmed that Eskom had not consulted unions because the process had not yet required consultations with organised labour. But the NUM has challenged Eskom’s plans.

The union’s energy sector coordinator, Paris Mashego, claimed that past experience had shown that when the power utility embarked on a natural attrition process, workers often found themselves hauled before disciplinary hearings.

"When there are these problems there is always an increase of disciplinary hearings and more workers are dismissed," he said.

"It becomes a method of getting rid of workers. We fear this approach is what we will see again. We agree they must save money. We also have our proposals on how they can save money rather than focusing on dismissing workers," he said.

mahlakoanat@businesslive.co.za