Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Finance minister Tito Mboweni must be a hope to the masses, in particular, the working class and the poor. His recent reckless statement on Eskom’s looming retrenchment of 30,000 workers has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the working class.

In his address at the jobs summit two weeks ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged that unemployment is the greatest challenge facing the country at this moment in its history. He reiterated that unemployment diminishes the country’s ability to eradicate poverty, tackle inequality and improve the lives of the working class and the poor.

The president proposed that to avoid retrenchments there should be agreement between the social partners (the government, business and labour) that all possible alternatives and opportunities be explored before retrenchment is considered, including executive salary sacrifices and the foregoing of dividends.

Labour’s warning to Mboweni is that cutting down the size of the public service may prove risky for the ANC before next year’s elections.

The dire jobs situation is reflected in the quarterly labour force survey released by Statistics SA for the second quarter of 2018. It shows that, despite growth in employment of 206,000 jobs during the second quarter, the rate of unemployment was 27.2%. Furthermore, the unemployment rate of young people was at 52.4%, with an absorption rate of only 12.2%.

As the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), we can no longer hide our displeasure. To announce the possibility of reducing Eskom workers without consulting the trade unions organising in that sector is unlawful and reckless.

The union’s position is that Eskom’s problems do not have to do with a bloated structure. The biggest problem the power purchase agreements that were signed by the government. The renewable energy independent power producers (IPPs) are milking Eskom of millions of rand. It is buying electricity from them for R2.14 and selling it at 89c. This arrangement is clearly unsustainable.

Our appeal to Mboweni is that he first clean up the management of Eskom before destroying the jobs of Eskom workers who are currently facing dire economic conditions. The fairy tale that the power utility is bloated is a negative narrative from the people who want to privatise Eskom through the back door. 

The NUM takes the view that essential-service employees cannot be retrenched, and we will not allow Eskom to retrench workers willy-nilly.

The minister must further deal with the issue of municipal debt. Eskom is owed more than R13bn by the municipalities. The minister must come up with a strategy to help Eskom get this money from the municipalities before he issues reckless and unfounded statements.

• Chilwane is the National Union of Mineworkers’ media officer.