South Africa


Cosatu marches against Eskom restructuring and possible retrenchments

Cosatu marches against Eskom restructuring and possible retrenchments
Some of the thousands of members of Cosatu start the nationwide strike in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, 13 February 2019. EPA-EFE/KIM LUDBROOK

Members of Cosatu-affiliated unions took to the streets on Wednesday in a nationwide strike against job losses. The labour federation warned of more protests if President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plan to unbundle Eskom leads to retrenchments.

The country’s largest trade union federation flexed its muscles on Wednesday as it held marches across the country against possible retrenchments and the proposed unbundling of Eskom into three separate entities.

Members of Cosatu-affiliated unions took to the streets in eight provinces where they called on the government and private sector to curtail job losses.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent announcement that Eskom will be split into three companies focused on generation, transmission and distribution, loomed over demonstrations that drew thousands of workers.

Government must stop the unbundling, privatisation, restructuring and dismantling of Eskom,” read the Cosatu memorandum submitted to the Gauteng provincial legislature and Minerals Council SA in Johannesburg, where it was received by Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe.

Cosatu believes workers are being punished for mismanagement and corruption at state-owned entities and opposes the unbundling of Eskom, which it says will lead to privatisation and job losses.

Announcing his plans for Eskom during last week’s State of the Nation Address, Ramaphosa said there would be “meaningful consultation and dialogue with all key stakeholders”.

On Wednesday, Cosatu President Zingiswa Losi told marchers in Durban the federation will discuss the Eskom proposal with government and demand that the unbundling does not lead to job losses.

As Cosatu, we said we’re ready to engage with the ANC government about this unbundling of Eskom, but we must agree on three things with the government: That you may call it whatever you want to call it, but jobs must not be lost; electricity costs must not go up, and we don’t want privatisation,” she was quoted as saying by TimesLive.

The power utility, which is more than R400-billion in debt, implemented load shedding on Sunday as its power generating units continue to suffer from serial breakdowns.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan on Wednesday announced there will be an investigation into the problems at the Medupi and Kusile power stations, which have failed to ease the pressure on the national grid due to the poor quality of their designs.

Ramaphosa is expected to outline further plans to address Eskom’s challenges on Thursday.

Cosatu also called on the government to cease the independent power producers (IPP) programme, which it says is costly and has led to a “jobs bloodbath” for Eskom employees. It called on the government to renegotiate and withdraw from all IPP contracts and for Eskom to establish its own renewable energy supplies.

The memorandum demanded an end to State Capture, corruption and mismanagement and for action to be taken against those implicated. It also asked for an immediate moratorium on retrenchments in the mining sector.

At the Johannesburg demonstration, Steven Mathebula, 47, said he was marching against retrenchments.

People are looking for work, not looking to lose work. How can they tell us there is no money when so much money is being wasted on corruption? Billions are lost through corruption while we have to live in fear of losing our jobs. We say we’ll fight,” he said.

At his Jobs Summit in October, Ramaphosa said there would be no retrenchments in the public sector. The business sector agreed to avoid job losses, but did not agree to labour’s demand for a blanket moratorium on retrenchments.

Cosatu believes that the labour movement must develop ways of contesting retrenchments at an industry-wide and economy-wide level because it is impossible to fight the retrenchment crisis effectively at a workplace level,” read the federation’s memorandum on Wednesday.

Its alliance partner, the SACP, which supported the labour federation’s march, has called for “an economy-wide strategy to halt retrenchments”.

Stats SA on Tuesday announced a slight drop in the unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2018, declining from 27.5% to 27.1% due to seasonal hirings over the holiday season. Cosatu on Wednesday called on the government to implement widespread job-creation programmes.

The federation says it hopes its demands will be reflected in Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s Budget speech next Wednesday, but Cosatu and the SACP have questioned a number of Ramaphosa’s policies since they supported his ANC presidential campaign, accusing him of favouring big business.

Cosatu’s Gauteng leaders on Monday questioned the federation’s support of the ANC in the upcoming election due to Ramaphosa’s perceived continuation of neo-liberal policies. Federation leaders, however, said they are bound by conference resolutions to support the ruling party.

In a statement on Wednesday, the SACP touched on the ANC’s alliance partners’ efforts to have greater influence in government policy-making. It said “the manner in which the Alliance is configured and its modus operandi are outdated. If not reconfigured, the Alliance will, going forward, not be able to stand the test of time.”

The SACP remains behind the ANC, however, as “the reconfiguration of the Alliance is not an event, but a process”.

The IFP on Wednesday criticised Cosatu for marching while backing the ANC in the upcoming national and provincial elections.

The farcical march is nonsensical as Cosatu will not be able to backtrack on their resolution taken at their congress in September last year (2018) to support the ANC in the 2019 national and provincial elections,” said IFP spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa.

The hypocrisy in workers marching unto themselves essentially speaks to the very rot within the ANC and their alliance partners,” he said.

Cosatu will hold another demonstration in Cape Town on Tuesday before the Budget speech and has warned of more protests if its demands aren’t met. DM


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