Protesting Eskom workers block roads to power stations, incidents of intimidation reported

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Eskom hoop beurtkrag sal nie oor die naweek nodig wees nie. Foto: Reuters
Eskom hoop beurtkrag sal nie oor die naweek nodig wees nie. Foto: Reuters

Tensions are rising at Eskom, with the struggling electricity supplier confirming protests at a number of power plants following a breakdown in wage negotiations.

Groups at six coal-fired stations "have blocked roads leading to some of the power stations, which hampers the movement of people and goods into or outside of the facilities," spokesman Sikonathi Mantshantsha said in a text message on Thursday.

"While some incidents of intimidation have been reported, the protesters are largely peaceful at this stage."

The development adds pressure on the state-owned utility, already failing to meet electricity demand and forced to implement controlled blackouts to keep the grid from a total collapse. The currently is currently experiencing Stage 2 load shedding every day until Sunday due to breakdowns at the power station. 

Eskom, which generates almost all of the nation’s power, reached a deadlock with unions in pay talks earlier this week.

The company’s last major wage negotiations in 2018 broke down into labour protests - considered illegal because the utility provides an essential service - that resulted in electricity shortages. A three-year deal was then signed for pay increases of as much as 7.5% annually.

Some of Thursday’s demonstrators wore union gear, Mantshantsha said. The police have been alerted.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) are the two biggest labor groups at Eskom. The energy coordinator for NUM didn’t immediately return a call and text message. A spokeswoman for Numsa declined to comment.

Fin24 reported on Wednesday that Eskom general manager for people relations Thulane Ngele said at a briefing that parties could refer the matter to the CCMA. He also reiterated that Eskom was an essential service. 

Numsa alleged in a statement that Eskom collapsed the talks because it did not want to be held accountable for spending on coal and Independent Power Producer contracts.

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