'No plans to retrench any staff' – Eskom hits back at claims it plans to lay off white men

Amelia Genis

Eskom has "neither plans nor decision to retrench any employees, whatever their gender or race", the power utility said on Friday.

This follows claims by trade union Solidarity that the state-owned power company "wants to get rid of another 500 white maintenance staff".

According to Solidarity, this was part of Eskom's latest Employment Equity plan for 2023-2025. Solidarity added that it had issued a legal letter to Eskom calling for a halt to race-based appointments at the utility while the country was in the grip of an ongoing power crisis.

Eskom says the document in question was for internal discussion and there were no retrenchment plans in place.

It says, on the contrary, it wants to bolster skills to tackle the power crisis.

But Solidarity was not convinced. "We do not see in the plan that Eskom is making plans to address its skills challenges. This plan is all about skin colour at the various job levels," Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann had said on Thursday, adding that "these race targets" were "absurd".

Hermann said competent white candidates would be discouraged from applying for jobs to help solve the power crisis.

On Friday, however, a statement issued by Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha slammed the claims, labelling them "unfortunate" and "opportunistic", causing "unnecessary panic and fear".

Eskom stressed that "discrimination based on race or gender do not qualify as a criterion for retrenchment" under Section 189(3) of the Labour Relations Act.

The statement further said that in addition to having no current plans to retrench, Eskom had put measures in place to bolster critical skills that would improve plant performance.

"Amongst others, as Eskom has regularly communicated, these include recruiting retired former employees and other specialist skills that have the potential to help resolve the energy crisis. These are South Africans of all hues and gender," it read.

Eskom said it was "unprofessional" to circulate the document as it was meant for consultation and not final.

"The document referred to in the article is part of internal consultations on employment equity with trade unions, which amongst others seek to verify information for correctness, solicit inputs on targets as well as the required affirmative action measures.

"As per consultation process, all parties are afforded an opportunity to engage, clarify, suggest alternatives before final decisions are taken. It is rather unfortunate, opportunistic, and unprofessional for Solidarity, or any party to the confidential internal consultations, to opt to cause unnecessary panic and fear, creating sensation among our staff and in the media before allowing the internal processes to make the appropriate decision."

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