The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) has asserted that it has “reliably learnt” that the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation’s (Necsa’s) board is proposing to retrench 400 employees and perhaps sell public assets as part of a turnaround strategy submitted to the Department of Energy (now part of the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy). Further, Nehawu affirmed that Necsa’s executive committee has not been consulted about these proposals.
“We have since learnt that the Necsa board has intentions to close and/or sell [subsidiaries] Pelchem, Pelindaba Enterprises and Necsa property,” it added. “We call on the board to publicly confirm or deny these allegations. Similarly, [Necsa subsidiary] NTP [Radioisotopes] has intentions of selling its subsidiaries [which] are profitable, namely NTP Logistics, Gamma-tek and AEC Amersham. As a matter or principle, we stand in opposition to the surrender of public resources to private individuals. Public resources are for public benefit.”
In its statement, the union attached the sobriquet “Mr Retrenchments” to Necsa board chairperson Dr Rob Adam. It argued that his March report to Parliament on the financial situation of the State-owned nuclear agency was done “in a manner that suggests some commitment to provide a justification for, among others, the retrenchment of workers and the privatisation of State assets in general and Pelchem in particular”.
“We are disgusted with his continued anti-working-class attitude because the language and agenda of retrenchments [are] what seems to characterise Dr Adam’s management style,” it said. “We feel validated to hold this attitude, because he left Necsa in financial tatters in 2012 (Adam was Necsa CEO from 2006 to 2012), with 250 employees served with retrenchment notices. He left Necsa to join Aveng Nuclear Manufacturing division, which also collapsed and retrenched its employees.”
Nehawu called for the dismissal of the Necsa board. It also demanded the removal of the boards and MDs of NTP and Pelchem “because they have failed to lead these entities in compliance [with] safety and Nuclear Licence Installation conditions”.
In response, Necsa issued a curt statement. “The board inherited a dire financial situation when it assumed office in December 2018, with cash flow shortfalls of hundreds of millions of rands and empty order books across divisions,” stated Necsa. It blamed this situation on policy uncertainty concerning the construction of new nuclear power plants for South Africa.
As a result, the Necsa board had to hold talks with its shareholder (the State), because “urgent decisions needed to be made”. It affirmed that it was perfectly correct for the board to first hold discussions with its shareholder. It would, however, also talk with all Necsa role-players and stakeholders, “in accordance with the provisions of the law”.
Nehawu also attacked the appointment of “white males” to key posts in the State-owned company, namely Adam as board chairperson, Don Robertson as acting Group CEO and Rico Viljoen as acting CFO. Both Robertson and Viljoen were recalled from retirement.
The union claimed this was a “reversal of the transformation agenda”. Also, similar things were happening at NTP, “where experienced and capable black professionals are pushed to the margins to facilitate the employment of consultants from minority groups at a huge cost and security risk”.
“Necsa’s turnaround strategy cannot be complete without placing the replacement of the Safari-1 [research reactor] at the centre as a matter of urgency and the expansion of nuclear energy and technology in South Africa,” argued the union.