Deep in the heart of Eskom: Union tells of long hours, plummeting morale

Kusile Power Station. (Photo: Eskom)
Kusile Power Station. (Photo: Eskom)

Union members at Eskom say conditions have become more gruelling at work since the reintroduction of load shedding.

On Monday evening, Eskom announced that it would escalate load shedding to stage 6, an unprecedented move which allow for 6 000 MW to be shed. This was an indication that Eskom had lost over 40% of its generating capacity, energy analyst Chris Yelland said.

Eskom attributed the breakdowns to aging infrastructure, coupled with flooding at some power stations due to heavy rains.

The National Union of Mineworkers' energy sector coordinator Paris Mashego told Fin24 on Tuesday that in his view, the crisis at Eskom was down to poor planning in terms of plant maintenance.

He said the union was getting reports from members which left it concerned that the base load was not being stabilised.

"The IRP 2019 doesn’t talk about basing more power stations or nuclear. This means that load shedding will be with us until 2025.

"We are not adding base load, we are reducing base load. As long as we don’t build plants and properly maintain Medupi and Kusile, we will struggle," opined Mashego.

Eskom spokesperson Dikatso Mothae told Fin24 on Monday that while a nine-point plan aimed at turning the power utility around had been implemented, it could take up to two years to see the end of load shedding.

Mashego said maintenance of Medupi and Kusile was not thorough, that boilers were not made for these stations, and that the dry cooling power stations were not supplying energy to the country at their full potential, because they were not in a condition to do so.

"When they are hot, they pull in hot air, and that means they cannot cool down, which forces you to run them at half-load," Mashego said.

Low morale

"We need a strong board and a strong government that is interested in saving Eskom, not one that wants to break Eskom into pieces," he added.

He said employee workload had increased dramatically in recent weeks, and that there were no incentives or mechanisms to encourage continued output, which was having a devastating impact on employee morale.

"What I get from the shop floor is that members are overworked. There are no restrictions on overtime, like limiting work to 40 hours a week. All Eskom can give workers is an extra day for leave, so there is no additional incentive for taking on the additional workload."

Stripping one station to maintain another

He added: "Eskom has stopped the payment of incentive bonuses for employees. So, employees are not incentivised to go the extra mile to keep plants running. It’s maintenance and materials are in short supply. We are stripping from one station to maintain another."

Mashego said he had collected inputs from stations in Mpumalanga Province, including Hendrina, Kriel, Matla and Tuthuka, where power stations have one or two units not functioning, therefore affecting the supply.

Speaking to Fin24 on Monday, energy analyst Chris Yelland expressed concern for employees at Eskom, saying he feared there was a "complete breakdown in morale".

He said it could have a detrimental impact that employees were still awaiting the arrival of newly appointed CEO Andre de Ruyter, who is due to step into his role in the new year.

Speaking in a televised interview on eNCA on Monday night, Eskom acting CEO and chair Jabu Mabuza said the current situation was "not a calamity" but a controlled measure to prevent a total blackout.

Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan added that the country's energy predicament was a "manageable crisis". He further said President Cyril Ramaphosa was "very aware" of the various issues befalling the country's state-owned enterprises, saying he kept in touch on a regular basis.

Eskom, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and Solidarity were given an opportunity to comment on this story on Tuesday, but had not responded by deadline.

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