Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) are on strike at Abengoa South Africa in the Northern Cape. This company is but one of the renewable energy plants based in the Northern Cape. Abengoa is the perfect example of the kind of renewable company which the energy minister is actively promoting.
Unlike workers at Eskom, workers at Abengoa do not get any benefits. They are denied medical aid, housing allowance, provident fund and other benefits. Their wages are spent on covering all these expenses. This is why the entire workforce is on strike to demand higher wages and benefits. The Energy minister claimed that these firms would bring “entrepreneurial opportunities in our rural communities”. Our members can confirm that this is hogwash. There is very little development and certainly no opportunities for entrepreneurship in the surrounding area of the firm.
Furthermore at the time it was constructed, Abengoa required approximately one thousand people to build it, after it has been constructed it only requires about hundred people to run and maintain it. We are asking ourselves where the minister gets the idea that 61 thousand jobs will be created? Even at construction it is doubtful that more than a thousand workers would be used to construct it per plant. It is clear to us that this is nothing more than a propaganda campaign to get workers to agree to IPP’s.
IPPs WILL RESULT IN JOB CUTS
Eskom has confirmed that when the IPP contracts are signed, five Eskom power plants in Mpumalanga would be put on ‘cold reserve’. This is a kind way of saying there will be job losses. They will cut hours which will drastically reduce pay, and eventually they will retrench those workers. At least 30 thousand workers and their families will be affected by this decision. Given that these plants only require about a hundred people to run and maintain them, this means the rest of the workers will languish in poverty caused by unemployment. NUMSA wants guarantees that not a single job at Eskom will be lost as a result of the IPP roll out and that is why we cannot support it in its current form.
NUMSA IS NOT OPPOSED TO RENEWABLE ENERGY AND TO ENERGY
We are one of the very few trade unions which have several resolutions on renewable energy. We believe that we must stop depending on fossil fuels because of the negative impact on the environment and the health implications for working class families. We are calling for a Just Transition to renewable Energy. We demand that the state adhere to the guidelines of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which they agreed to when they signed the Paris Accord.
The ILO “Guidelines for a Just Transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all” explicitly state that the policies guiding the transition from fossil fuels to renewables must promote the creation of more decent jobs, anticipate the impact on employment, provide adequate and social protection for job losses and displacement, skills development and social dialogue, including the effective exercise of the right to organize and bargain collectively.
Throughout this entire process these principles have been ignored by the state. The most important stakeholder, which is the working class and their families have been shut out of this entire process, ignored and disregarded. This is a blatant violation of the Paris Accord which South Africa is a signatory to!
You cannot solve the problem of climate change, by creating a new problem of joblessness and poverty. NUMSA resolved in 2012 that we want a socially owned renewable sector (RE). We also said we wanted it to be Socially owned. We reject any attempt to create a RE sector driven by the private sector, which is precisely what the state is trying to implement. We demand that the state must put social ownership and control at the centre of any plan, before it rushes out to sign agreements with IPP’s. We are sick and tired of business using the false promise of job creation as a carrot to dupe the working class into supporting projects which are not designed to benefit them. The 2010 World Cup as well as the infamous Arms Deal are just few examples of how the state lied to workers about mass job creation projects, but to date, none of those benefits have materialized.
The current project must incorporate co-operatives, municipal entities and other forms of community energy enterprises. In comparison this project is driven mostly by International and local crony capital whose aim is to loot the state coffers, just like the Gupta’s did. We view it as nothing more than an attempt to privatize Eskom through the back door.
IPP’S WILL COST MORE
Eskom says the IPP’s will cost more. As NUMSA we are asking ourselves what is the rationale for buying more for electricity when you can’t afford it. Eskom made it blatantly clear at the NERSA applications last year that they cannot afford to spend more on electricity. We can only presume that the state is hoping that that the working class majority will foot the bill for those costs as well.
NUMSA will do everything possible to compel the government to abandon its current course of action, on the IPPs. We will not allow them to bully us into supporting initiatives which are designed to enrich a few already local and international fat cows, while punishing the people of South Africa generally, and the South African working class in particular. It is time to organize for mass struggles on the energy front.
We are inspired by the courage of the workers at Abengoa in the Northern Cape. They are resolute and for the last week they have refused to return to work until their demands are met. They are making the ultimate sacrifice for a better life and we salute them.
The struggle continues!
Issued by Irvin Jim,
NUMSA General Secretary