South Africa - The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) took to the streets on Saturday 17 November to protest against retrenchments at the national power utility, Eskom, the closure of coal mines, as well as government’s renewable energy program with Independent Power Producers (IPPs)
From March this year, NUMSA attempted to interdict South Africa’s Department of Energy to block the finalization of IPP contracts.
The union has always been vehemently opposed to the IPP program saying they are calling for a just transition from coal to renewable energy.
“A Just Transition is one where the transition from coal to renewable energy does not negatively affect workers and the community at large, and, it must not disadvantage the next generation. Instead the transition we are experiencing will worsen the conditions for the working class,” NUMSA said in a statement issued prior to their protest march.
During the NUM led march, NUMSA and South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) called for the Eskom CEO, Phakamani Radebe, and the entire board to be sacked.
The two unions alleged that the CEO and the power utility's board are deliberately collapsing Eskom and threatening workers jobs by signing contracts with IPPs.
NUMSA Secretary General Irvin Jim said, “That whole board must go. We know how you run Eskom; we know what needs to be done not to destroy a single job.”
Also speaking at the march, NUM’s president Joseph Montisetsi insisted workers face a real threat of losing their jobs if IPPs are allowed to go ahead.
However, prior to the unions’ protest, and speaking on behalf of the wind energy sector in South Africa, the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) issued a statement allaying any fears of job losses due to IPPs.
In the statement SAWEA says that the Department of Energy recently confirmed that the renewable energy sector is currently four times more employment-intensive than the country’s coal and nuclear sector.
“During construction thus far, employment for 30,405 job years has been created by the country’s renewable energy sector as a whole, with the wind industry contributing approximately one third of these jobs,” explained Brenda Martin, CEO of SAWEA.
The wind industry concedes that much of the employment in the sector happens within the construction phase, with a timeframe of typically 2 years per project.
“The full portfolio of 36 preferred bidder wind projects, procured to-date, are expected to generate 32,138 job years, over their 20-year operational period,” Martin added.
SAWEA’s statement points out that whilst the power plants operations phases offer less jobs, they do add up and where wind power is concerned, the countries that boast consistent utility-scale wind energy installed capacities are also the countries that can boast large jobs-intensive wind turbine manufacturing industry market share.
Two further areas of significant job-creation potential within the Wind power value chain are transport and construction.
“In national policy and planning, most of SA’s existing coal power plants are scheduled to retire by 2050, when they reach end of life. Aligned with this, and as numerous Eskom annual reports will confirm, the Utility has been planning coal-fired power station retirements for many years, so to pin job losses on the renewable energy sector is inaccurate” explained Brenda Martin.
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