Pravin Gordhan. Picture: MIKE HUTCHINGS
Pravin Gordhan. Picture: MIKE HUTCHINGS

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan intervened in Eskom’s wage dispute because he believes prolonged load shedding will have a huge negative effect on the already sluggish economy.

Eskom began disrupting electricity supply on Thursday, and Gordhan met members of its board and representatives of three trade unions on Friday.

He visited Eskom operations on Saturday.

Wage talks broke down last week between the state-owned utility and trade unions. Eskom blamed workers’ protest action and sabotage for the load shedding, which is affecting the country for hours at a time.

Gordhan said in an interview on Sunday that he wanted to avoid a "massive load shedding crisis which would impact negatively on the economy, as we have seen before.

"This was an intervention. In the current environment where there is so much clearing up to do, I think one should not be too constrained about interacting with boards and management in a proactive way if the situation demands it — provided that you are not dictating the wrong things."

On Saturday Gordhan visited Eskom operations to see what was involved in getting power stations back in operation.

"What we are learning is that recovery from these kinds of events does not happen instantaneously," he said. "It is not just a question of putting on a switch and thinking that things will just start. There are a whole series of things that need to be done."

Wage negotiations

Wage negotiations at Eskom are set to resume on Tuesday, but there is still a risk of blackouts for the next 10 days.

Eskom is expected to review its 0% wage offer.

After the talks broke down, unions declared a dispute at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and embarked on lunch-time pickets, while some took part in unlawful protest action.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA and the National Union of Mineworkers are demanding a 15% wage increase, while Solidarity tabled a demand for 9%.

On Sunday Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said the country was still at risk of load shedding as the power system had still not fully recovered from the industrial action, which included "sabotage".

"We are seeing green shoots of progress at some power stations, but the risk will still be there, especially in the afternoons and evenings. If the power stations are not yet fully operational, it will compromise our ability to deliver," he said.

Phasiwe dismissed claims that Eskom had used the industrial action to cover up an existing problem that would have led to power supply being compromised.

Numsa challenged the company to produce evidence supporting its assertions that the power supply had been sabotaged by disgruntled workers.

It said Eskom had a history of "manipulating" processes to its own benefit. General secretary Irvin Jim said allegations that during load shedding in 2008 Eskom executives had sabotaged the network to benefit through the "sale of diesel" could not be ignored.

Phasiwe explained that Eskom had already declared it was having problems at six of its power stations due to insufficient coal and that deliveries were "severely" affected by the disruptions over the past few days. "The reason why Eskom is in this situation is primarily because of intimidation and because coal trucks were not able to deliver coal," he said.

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