Labour unrest forces Eskom to start power cuts
SA faces power cuts, with 15 units down at nine Eskom stations, taking over 6,000MW, or 13% of the utility’s output, off the national grid, an internal document seen by Reuters shows.
Eskom provides more than 90% of the country’s power, but the state-owned utility has been hit by labour unrest over wage talks as it tries to reverse a decade of financial decline by cutting costs.
The power utility said on Tuesday it had implemented controlled electricity cuts from 5pm to 10pm, citing "a shortage of capacity" after power supply was affected by labour unrest by workers who are demanding higher wages.
Power cuts during the winter are likely to cause hardship for millions of people.
The document, sent to senior staff of the struggling utility, shows that four units are down at the Arnot station in Mpumalanga, contradicting an earlier claim by Eskom that only one of the six coal-fired units there was not functioning.
Reasons cited for the outages at the 15 units in total include a wildcat strike and low coal levels, which union sources said was related to the industrial unrest along the coal belt east of Johannesburg. Eleven of the units went down on Monday and Tuesday, underscoring the impact of the protests.
The other four units went down months ago or in 2017 due to circumstances unrelated to the wage protests.
Only two of the 15 units, both at Arnot, were expected to come back on line on Tuesday, according to the document. Nine are expected to start generating power again this week.
On Tuesday, nonstriking employees at the Arnot power station were prevented from going to work by striking colleagues, according to Eskom and union sources.
The threat of protests and outages had appeared to recede after the power utility offered to raise salaries by about 7% annually over the next three years, but trade unions want bonuses to be paid before they agree to a wage deal.
Eskom, which has a total national output of 45,000MW, was forced to implement controlled electricity outages in mid-June after workers protested over wages.
Previously, Eskom implemented such measures, known as "load shedding", in 2015, denting economic output.
Last week, Eskom said it was considering cutting staff and selling assets after swinging to a $171m loss that underlined the gravity of the power utility’s financial position.
President Cyril Ramaphosa replaced Eskom’s entire board and top executives in January, in a bid to revive the crucial state enterprise.