Eskom - hooked on stupid

Two Eskom-related stories have caught my eye today, and left me seething.

First, new Acting CEO, Brian Molefe urged South Africans not to "beat up" Eskom. Molefe's rationale is that Eskom is able to supply power to the average household for over 90% of the time.

In my household, we are subjected to roughly 12 hours of load shedding every week. That could conceivably double, as we approach winter, and stage 3 kicks in more often. 24 Hours out of 168 is 14%, and makes a mockery of his 90% figure. But that is to miss the point.

At what level does Mr Molefe believe we are entitled to bash Eskom? Below 80%, i.e. when Eskom is delivering a B class service? Will it be below 50%, after all, that is a pass mark at university? Or perhaps even below 40%, being the pass mark for matric? When does Eskom become fair game, if not now?

What Mr Molefe fails to recognise is that in any mature utility, availability of 90% is an appalling statistic. It really should be upwards of 98%. Eskom was, a few years ago, awarded the accolade - "International Power Company of the Year". It is thus not a mickey mouse organisation, and simply must do better.

Second, the Eskom board, led by Dr Naidoo, insisted that they would "claw back" [time, money and quality] on the build programme.

Dr Naidoo's reputation as an engineer, business leader and energy sector executive, is impeccable. I first met him when I was an Eskom bursar in Durban, and he was a fairly recent graduate. Our paths then crossed occasionally during my career with Eskom. I have no doubt that Pat is the kind of stellar guy you need to get things back on track.

Except I have much experience of Medupi, and I know what's going on. In its simplest terms, the workforce has Eskom, and the Medupi bossman in particular, Roman Crookes, by the wedding tackle.

The Project Labour Agreement, according to which every worker at Medupi is swathed in cotton wool and molly-coddled in the extreme, is an abomination.

I am totally against the abuse of workers, and some form of labour regulation is perfectly acceptable. But the PLA has turned workers' benefits into a joke. The workforce is untouchable - even after 1,000+ workers went on an illegal strike and were dismissed, Eskom has since re-instated them, and pursued disciplinary action only against a limited few.

They are overpaid, and the allowances and perks they receive are far beyond the value they add. They receive meals, transport, housing, a paid long weekend every two weeks, production (sic) bonuses, you name it. And with every new demand, they want whatever it is to be tax-free or after tax.

Right now, there is precious little happening at Medupi. NUMSA has taken the bulk of the workforce off the job, pending receipt of Eskom's feedback report, due on 27 April. And part of that arrangement is that the workers will be paid up and till 24 April. Given that next week is short, no doubt Eskom will simply give in, and allow the workers to return only on 4 May.

Given that climate of abuse of the employer, by the workforce, Dr Naidoo doesn't stand a chance.

What needs to happen is that the PLA needs to be binned. Workers must then be engaged to work, furiously. In return they will be paid an above-average wage, reasonable allowances, and bonuses based solely on performance, not the lowest common denominator.

They will not dictate terms to Eskom, nor will they spend alternating weeks on PLA weekend and strike action. They will recognise that individually, the value they add is miniscule.

The Eskom problem right now is quite simple. They are 3,000MW short in terms of generation, due to plant out of service. If Medupi, which is designed to deliver 4,800MW, was mostly completed, there would be no load shedding whatsoever. And the only way Dr Naidoo and his team are going to deliver a single MW from Medupi and Kusile, is by getting tough. Not by pandering to the workforce's outrageous demands.

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