July 31, 2018 / 7:20 AM / 5 months ago

South African power stations operating normally, some protests persist

JOHANNESBURG, July 31 (Reuters) - Power stations run by South Africa’s state-run utility Eskom were operating normally on Tuesday after disruptions on Monday by workers protesting over wages, the company and union sources said.

Eskom said on Monday that the protests raised the risk of electricity cuts this week in Africa’s most industrialised economy. Similar protests last month triggered a spate of rolling blackouts, known locally as “load shedding”.

“The situation has improved slightly. There is a huge presence of the police which is helping to ease movement in and out of our power stations,” Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said.

“There are still pockets of picketing, but there is no direct impact on our operations this morning,” he said.

A source with the Solidarity trade union, one of three involved in the wage talks whose members have not taken part in the protests, confirmed that “all stations are open for workers to enter now.”

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) says many of its members at Eskom are on what amounts to a wildcat strike.

NUM energy sector coordinator Paris Mashego said the power stations affected on Monday included Kendal, Hendrina, Arnot, Duvha and Matla, with workers at the Kriel station expected to down tools on Tuesday.

Eskom’s Phasiwe said coal supplies remained a concern.

“Six power stations still have low stock levels of coal, so it’s critical that coal supplies continue to reach those stations,” he said.

The threat of protests and outages had appeared to recede after Eskom offered to raise salaries by around 7 percent annually over the next three years, but trade unions want bonuses to be paid before they agree a wage deal.

Eskom, which supplies more than 90 percent of South Africa’s power, has been grappling with labour unrest as it cuts costs aiming to reverse a decade of steep financial decline. (Reporting by Alexander Winning and Ed Stoddard; editing by Jason Neely)

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