NUM general secretary David Sipunzi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
NUM general secretary David Sipunzi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which has rejected the government’s decision to unbundle Eskom says it wants the “status quo” to remain at the power utility.

On Thursday, the union’s leaders told journalists at a briefing in Johannesburg that its fear that the unbundling would lead to job losses were based on lessons learnt from Transnet, and the best option was to keep Eskom as it was, while admitting that the company was in crisis.

“The alternative is the status quo. This Eskom, which is running the business now, is short of management and [has a] shortage of skills. There is nothing wrong. The unbundling is something that cannot solve anything,” NUM president Joseph Montisetse said.

The NUM is the majority union at Eskom with more than 15,000 members and has threatened to strike and to withdraw its support for the ANC during the elections if the plan goes ahead.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced during the state of the nation address (Sona) last week that the government would implement the recommendation of an expert panel appointed to explore solutions for the crisis-ridden state-owned company, by separating Eskom into three entities: generation, transmission and distribution.

Eskom has debt of about R419bn and is considered the biggest threat to government finances and the economy, with this week’s rolling power cuts a demonstration of the country’s vulnerability should the power utility fail.

Despite this, the NUM said the solution to the company’s woes would not be found in unbundling it.

Transnet unbundled and sold its noncore assets in 2006, and despite the NUM’s fears, there were no mass job losses then.

The union also claims that “reliable sources” had informed it that the unbundling at Eskom would lead to retrenchments.

“The unbundling does not work … since the unbundling of Transnet, we did not see a growth of employment. History has taught us that unbundling leads to job losses. We get it from reliable sources that the unbundling will lead to retrenchments,” NUM general secretary David Sipunzi said.

The NUM also wants the Eskom board to be fired, and questioned its role in the light of Ramaphosa’s reliance on the expert panel for a way forward at the entity.

Meanwhile, the union, which is an affiliate of Cosatu, has also accused the ANC of “lying” to its officials during a meeting last week. Cosatu is in an alliance with the ANC and the SACP.

Sipunzi said they “barged” into ANC headquarters, Luthuli House, last week to seek answers on Ramaphosa’s announcement regarding Eskom. Organised labour was not consulted during the decision-making process, he said.

“We believe that the ANC is continuing to lie to us saying this unbundling will not result in job losses, yet the people who want to put money into Eskom say if you do not reduce your workforce we will not give you money … we are being taken for a ride here, we cannot tolerate that, our members are angry,” he said.

The NUM has a special national congress scheduled for September to amend its constitution; however, Sipunzi said they would hold the meeting earlier if workers wanted to debate their support for the ANC ahead of the May elections.

Cosatu in Gauteng has also called for a review of the federation’s 2018 congress resolution to support the ANC during these elections.

mahlakoant@businesslive.co.za