Pushback against BEE hiring requirements amid Eskom skills crisis

 ·8 Aug 2022

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has pushed back against the rigid enforcement of broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) hiring practices at Eskom.

The DA’s member of parliament, Ghaleb Cachalia, said that the stubborn insistence by Eskom to enforce the transformative hiring practices in the face of a skills shortage is “corporate sabotage” and places the economy at significant risk.

The opposition party called on the minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, to urgently implement a moratorium on the BBEE requirement on Eskom’s hiring decisions.

Race-based considerations are adding to the challenge of rehiring experienced staff as Eskom continues to bleed highly skilled engineers and technicians, said the DA.

“It is simply a no-brainer that, faced with a national electricity crisis, Eskom should be hiring the best-skilled people irrespective of the race to fix broken generation units, effect maintenance and ensure that costly mistakes by poorly experienced employees do not continue to happen – as they have,” said the DA.

The party added that the failure by Gordhan and Eskom to remove the regressive requirement in hiring engineers and technicians would negate the energy emergency plan that was announced by the president and worsen the underperformance of Eskom plants.

“Success in securing the amount of power made available by Eskom’s fleet of power plants to meet the minimum demands by consumers will continue to be a pipe dream until all red tape is removed to enable the seamless onboarding of critical skills across Eskom’s generation plants.”

Skills shortage

The Sunday Times reported in July 2022 that more than 60% of all technical employees leaving Eskom have between 11 and more than 30 years of experience – while 80% of those who replace them have less than ten years of experience.

According to the paper, several senior leaders within the utility flagged disagreements along racial lines regarding the return of skilled employees to the state-owned entity, with one insider telling the Sunday Times:

“You know, when you talk about the issue of skills at Eskom, even at the executive level, it depends on whether you’re speaking to a black person or a white person, and you will hear a different answer.

“There is a feeling that when whites say there are no skills, they are talking about blacks who are now in charge of most of these power stations. The blacks feel that the whites only say this because they do not recognise their capacity.”

In response to the lack of necessary skills, Gordhan had sent a letter to trade union Solidarity, asking for its assistance in addressing the issue. Gordhan added that specific skills that Eskom was looking for included:

  • Power station engineers (mechanical, electrical, nuclear, system, and maintenance);
  • Senior artisans;
  • Plant operators (coal and nuclear).

Solidarity has subsequently issued a list to the minister and Eskom CEO  André de Ruyter with over 300 experts on its shortlist with around 5,500 years of combined experience in the industry.

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