Home South African Black engineers slam Eskom’s ‘re-hiring’ plan

Black engineers slam Eskom’s ‘re-hiring’ plan

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60 retired engineers have volunteered their skills to help rebuild power utility

File picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso / African News Agency (ANA)

ESKOM’s plans to consider recruiting a group of retired engineers to boost its capacity to maintain its ageing coal-fired power stations has angered black engineers in the country.

Last week, the power utility announced that a group of 60 retired engineers, apparently mostly Eskom retirees, had volunteered their skills to help rebuild the organisation.

The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) on the weekend slammed the plan, accusing Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter of overlooking black engineers.

In a statement, NSBE president Mdu Mlaba said they were still waiting for Eskom to respond to them five months after they approached the power utility to offer their assistance to fix its technical challenges.

Mlaba said they were “completely offended” by the list of the touted engineers after De Ruyter made a presentation to the joint meeting of Parliament’s portfolio committees.

“A list of cherry-picked retired engineers was subsequently shared with NSBE, and upon close scrutiny we discovered that all of them are white. We are aware that most of them are not qualified engineers; they are artisans and, at best, technicians,” Mlaba said.

“We are enraged by this plan, as it undermines black engineers who are qualified, experienced and competent to fix the technical challenges at Eskom. Not long ago, Eskom let go of some 20 highly-experienced technical managers under the guise of restructuring. Most of them were black.

“This latest proposal contradicts that previous action. We call upon Minister (of Public Enterprises) Pravin Gordhan to reject this plan.”

The manpower plan comes at a time when Eskom is trying to reduce its bloated headcount of more than 46 000 employees. It set aside R400 million for voluntary separation packages for non-core and older employees earlier this year.

Eskom spokesperson Sikhonathi Mantshantsha said they welcomed all engineers who had specialist skills, regardless of their gender and race, and would consider their CVs individually.

“We will consider their CVs individually and welcome those who have specialist skills to help and to work on an uncompensated basis.

“Anyone else, whatever race, gender, who has a skill and is willing to do the same can approach Eskom and will be considered.”

In February, Eskom chief operations officer Jan Oberholzer said the power utility had filled 80 percent of just more than 2 000 critical vacancies in the generation environment, such as plant operators.

In his presentation to Parliament, De Ruyter said most of these engineers had indicated that they were prepared to offer their skills free of charge and on the basis of the reimbursement of their costs only.

He said the offer by retired engineers was “a very good form of national service”.

“We are going to be making use of some short-term opportunity to bring in skills from outside in order to assist us in improving our project execution capability,” De Ruyter said.

“We are going to be assessing their skills and experience and placing them at the power stations to ensure that we transfer skills and we run our operations successfully. We intend to kick off on June 1, and by then we anticipate all our structures will be in place to restart with the reliability maintenance.”

Eskom has been ramping-up the maintenance of its power stations during the lockdown to ensure minimal load shedding when full-scale electricity demand resumes as the economy is opened gradually.