NUM threatens strike at Eskom over coal plant shutdowns

The union said the power station closures would translate into 10,000 direct job losses and as many as 40,000 around the stations and at the coal mines.

Eskom flags at Megawatt Park in Johannesburg. Picture: EWN

JOHANNESBURG – The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Wednesday threatened to go on strike at state-run utility Eskom over its plans to mothball five coal-powered stations, a move the union says would lead to thousands of job losses.

NUM General Secretary David Sipunzi told a media briefing the strike would involve all its members employed at the utility without offering a timetable. The union has about 15,000 members at Eskom, close to a third of Eskom's workforce.

The union said the power station closures would translate into 10,000 direct job losses and as many as 40,000 around the stations and at the coal mines that supply them.

Eskom has said that its workers cannot strike because it provides essential services. "It is not an Eskom imposed regime, this is what the law says," Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said on Wednesday.

Coal is used to generate more than 90 % of South Africa's power supply and job cuts are a particularly sensitive issue in a country where the unemployment rate is almost 27%.

Coal transport workers staged a protest earlier this month after President Jacob Zuma said in a speech to parliament that Eskom would sign new renewable energy contracts.

NUM President Piet Matosa said the union was planning unspecified protest action in other industries, including mining and construction, to rally support for its cause.

NUM membership has fallen to below 200,000 from some 300,000 in 2012 partly because of lay-offs in South Africa's mining sector and poaching from rival unions.

Eskom is aiming to reduce its heavy dependency on coal in favour of cleaner energy and says the five power stations in question are old and nearing the end of their life.