Wage protests lead to South African power outages
* Eskom says some power plants operating below capacity
* Unions have threatened 'total shutdown'
* Company produces more than 90 pct of South Africa's power
* President oversaw changes at Eskom to clean up governance
(Updates after Eskom begins power outages)
By Alexander Winning
JOHANNESBURG, June 14 (Reuters) - South Africa's struggling
state utility Eskom started controlled electricity outages on
Thursday, after trade union pay protests at its power plants
prevented it meeting demand.
The last time there were controlled power outages in
Africa's most industrialised economy, in 2015, economic output
suffered. Power cuts during winter are likely to cause hardship
Labour unions have threatened a total shutdown of Eskom's
operations unless it meets their demands for a 15 percent pay
rise. Eskom plans to offer no increase.
About 1,000 union members picketed outside its Megawatt Park
headquarters in Johannesburg. Protesters at power plants blocked
trucks carrying coal and buses ferrying staff, forcing some
generating units to be switched off.
Eskom, which produces more than 90 percent of South Africa's
power, narrowly avoided a liquidity crunch early this year and
was embroiled in corruption scandals surrounding friends of
former president Jacob Zuma.
It said in a statement that it expected the controlled
outages - called load-shedding - to last from 5:40 p.m. (1540
GMT) until around 8 p.m.
Shortly afterwards, traffic lights in central Johannesburg
stopped working, while some bars showing the opening game of the
soccer World Cup lost power.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and National Union
of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), who together represent
more than 20,000 of Eskom's 47,000 employees, say they want to
send a "strong signal" to management.
"ZERO PERCENT EQUALS ZERO MEGAWATTS"
Thabiso Masha, who works in Eskom's research department in
Germiston, told Reuters outside Megawatt Park: "Zero percent is
nonsense, we won't stand for it. Petrol is going up, VAT is
going up, so our pay is decreasing."
An employee in Eskom's distribution operation in
Johannesburg, who asked not to be named, said: "It's not the
workers' fault that the company is suffering because of
corruption ... They are preparing for job cuts."
Two workers held up a placard reading "0% equals 0
Megawatt". Another read: "To hell austerity measures".
Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said some power stations had
reduced output because of "acts of sabotage and intimidation".
"There have been several incidents of road blockades,
attacks on staff and wilful damage of electricity
infrastructure. As a result, all road coal deliveries have been
stopped for security reasons," Eskom said in a statement.
Stabilising Eskom's finances is a priority for President
Cyril Ramaphosa as he looks to rekindle growth after nine years
of stagnation under Zuma.
Ramaphosa oversaw the appointment of a new board and chief
executive at Eskom in an attempt to clean up governance and set
the company on a firmer financial footing.
Separately, the energy regulator NERSA gave Eskom the
go-ahead to raise prices to recover 32.7 billion rand ($2.5
billion) of costs incurred over three previous years, about half
what the utility had requested.
Eskom said it would study the decision before commenting.
($1 = 13.1788 rand)
(Additional reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo
Editing by James Macharia and Kevin Liffey)
First Published: 2018-06-14 11:32:28
Updated 2018-06-14 19:42:05
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