Union federation Cosatu is exploring two more urgent interventions which it thinks could help reduce Eskom’s spiralling debt.
The first is to ask the government to “tap into billions of rands in unclaimed mineworkers’ retirement funds” and the second is to “use funds from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF)”.
The proposals follow hot in the heels of the union’s contentious initial suggestion that the government should consider tapping into its Government Employees’ Pension Fund to steady the power utility’s sky-rocketing debt.
Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla told City Press that there had been a “gross misrepresentation” of its initial proposal that the government should consider tapping into the pension fund.
“We have consulted our members, particularly to clarify this distortion of Cosatu’s proposal.
“Unlike what some have reported, we [as Cosatu] do not want the Public Investment Corporation [which administers the GEPF] to contribute the entire R454 billion.
“We have been in talks with the government and the private sector to make it clear to them that we expect the government and business to contribute towards Eskom’s debt and then the shortfall would come from the pension fund.
“Beyond this, we have proposed that some money should also come from the UIF to contribute to rescuing Eskom.”
Pamla said Eskom’s demise would detrimentally affect both the public and private sectors.
It was for this reason that the power utility’s turnaround was incumbent upon both the government and private business.
“Because the UIF contribution emanates mostly from the private sector, not overlooking the significant collection from the public sector, we have held talks with government officials, other trade unions and representatives from Business Unity SA.”
He said there had also been talks with union members “to sell them the idea of using the fund”.
Taking a leaf out of the SAA’s business rescue practitioners, who approached the insurance fund for help earlier this month, Cosatu also suggested the appropriation of these funds to be channelled to save Eskom.
“We have explored the possibilities of using retirement benefits, particularly those of mine workers who cannot be found for one reason or another, mainly because some were from Mozambique, some from Zimbabwe or some from the Eastern Cape.
“This money is growing and it has a surplus,” said Pamla.
In 2017 the presidency announced that the unclaimed mineworkers’ retirement benefits was about R10 billion “in various pension and provident funds”.
The money was said to have dated back to the 1970s.
“The Financial Services Board is providing support to provident and pension fund administrators to identify former mineworkers who need to receive the pension and provident funds owing to them, some dating back to the 1970s,” the presidency said at the time.
Reasons given for the unclaimed pension money included the failure by many employers or funds to provide proper information to employees, such as informing them of their entitlement to a withdrawal benefit should they resign, were dismissed or retrenched and how to claim a benefit when it accrued.
Pamla argued that instead of the money sitting with provident and pension fund administrators, it ought to be invested into worker-related matters, such as trying to save Eskom and attempting to keep the utility’s 46 000 workers employed.
The federation could face strong opposition, with Solidarity already vowing to fight Cosatu’s Eskom pensions rescue plan.
Masale Selematsela, the president of the Federation of Unions of SA, also indicated that his union members would oppose Cosatu’s suggestion.
Matthew Parks, Cosatu’s parliamentary coordinator, said Solidarity should make its own suggestions instead of just shooting down Cosatu’s proposals for the sake of it.
“If Solidarity has any practical, constructive proposals we would be happy to look at them. But so far their only idea has been to try to bully social partners into not engaging on how to save Eskom. It is their constitutional right to go to court. The courts can decide if they have any legal merit. But, from our side, we are not aware of any laws in a democratic state that say you can go to court to ban people from making proposals,” Parks said.
Cosatu is gearing up for its central executive committee meeting from tomorrow to Wednesday when affiliates will make suggestions before a final decision is taken.