Eskom vows to keep lights on during wage protest

(Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)
(Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

Eskom's position not to offer wage increases is part of a broader effort by the cash-strapped power generator to reduce costs, CEO Phakamani Hadebe said on Wednesday, ahead of nationwide pickets by workers over pay increases.

Hadebe told journalists that the state-owned company was in a "difficult financial position" and has had to reduce operating expenditure while working to improve revenue.

"The decision not to offer salary increases should not be taken in isolation to other challenges we are facing," said Hadebe.

Thousands of Eskom employees around the country will on Thursday embark on lunch time pickets, as talks over wages have deadlocked. Wage talks have been referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, or CCMA.

Workers are demanding a 15% wage increase, while Eskom is offering a 0% increase.

Relating some of the measures that the firm has had embarked on in order to reduce cost, Hadebe said operation expenditure had been reduced from approximately R145bn to R132bn, while maintenance cost has been cut as well.

Hadebe said there were disruptions this morning at a numerous power stations, with workers prevented from entering work premises. Some stations were not operating at full capacity as a result.

"We have activated contingency plans, and some of our stations are not operating at full capacity," said Hadebe.

Cars transporting workers were stoned and roads leading to power stations barricaded.

The power stations affected were Grootvlei, Kendal, Arnot, Hendrina, Duvha, Matla, Thuthuka and Kriel.

"We would like to remind South Africans that we will work very hard to keep the lights on," he added.

Hadebe condemned the violence and disruption of services, saying "any action meant to sabotage infrastructure would be defended".

He confirmed that workers would be allowed to take part on the planned Thursday picket, but that the action would not lead to power disruptions.

"We will consider a court interdict if necessary to protect our assets and ensure supply," he said.

"It's in our interest to resolve this matter amicably, and we are open to efforts that would prevent this industrial action."

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