The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has expressed deep unhappiness with the decision of President Cyril Ramaphosa to announce the unbundling of Eskom in the absence of any prior consultation with the union, which is a formal ally of the governing African National Congress (ANC).
The union, which has 15 000 Eskom members and 3 000 more at Eskom Rotek Industries, also indicted during a media briefing in Johannesburg on Thursday that the unilateral decision to restructure the power utility might even trigger a withdrawal of its support for the ANC in the upcoming May 8 election.
The NUM also 25 000 members in the coal mining industry.
The union had already taken up its grievances during a recent meeting with the ANC’s office bearers at Luthuli House.
“If the ANC proceeds with the unbundling of Eskom without taking all stakeholders along, it is going to cost the party dearly,” NUM president Joseph Montisetse said, while describing the proposed unbundling as an “expensive exercise” that would plunge Eskom deeper into debt.
It has been confirmed that Eskom, which has debt of R420-billion and is forecasting a R20-billion loss for 2018/19, is technically insolvent and requires a capital injection before April to remain a going concern.
Montisetse added that the union was “bitterly dismayed” at the actions of Ramaphosa, particularly in light of the fact that he was founding general-secretary of the NUM.
During his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on February 7, Ramaphosa promised that there would be “meaningful consultation and dialogue with all key stakeholders” as government moved to addressed Eskom’s challenges.
“We will lead a process with labour, Eskom and other stakeholders to work out the details of a just transition, and proper, credible and sustainable plans that will address the needs of all those who may be affected.”
However, NUM general-secretary David Sipunzi expressed frustration at the lack of prior consultation on the plan to split the utility, under Eskom Holdings, into three separate businesses of generation, transmission and distribution.
“There was absolutely no consultation. We were ignored. We were taken by shock when the President announced in his SONA that there will be unbundling of Eskom, as though we are not a stakeholder at Eskom.”
The NUM, he added, would meet with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Energy Minister Jeff Radebe only on Monday February 18 for a briefing, with Eskom shop stewards to gather in Midrand on Friday February 15, to brief the leadership on their concerns.
Sipunzi said NUM members “are angry” and warned the union’s support for the ANC was not a “blank cheque”. “If our members down there are grumpy, we may be compelled . . . to call a special national congress just to deal with that item [NUM’s support for the ANC].”
Besides a lack of consultation, the NUM was also opposing the unbundling plan on the basis that it could threaten jobs at the utility, which employs some 48 000 people.
The union was equally unhappy with the performance of the board and executive team appointed since the election of Ramaphosa as ANC president in December 2017.
Montisetse called for the “incompetent board” to be disbanded, arguing that the recent appointed, by the President, of a task team to advise on Eskom sustainability was proof that Ramaphosa too had “no confidence” in the current board.