Eskom, labour kickstart talks to save the power utility

Eskom has extended an olive branch to labour unions on Friday in a bid to help rescue the struggling power utility.

In a statement issued on Friday, Eskom said it met with Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, which along with the National Union of Mineworkers represent the bulk of the utility’s 46 665, in an effort to strengthen relations and for Eskom to share its turnaround strategy.

The meeting with the three unions comes after Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe indicated that labour unions will have to support the government’s plans to split the power utility Eskom into three separate units.

"The unions are going to get behind the plan," Mantashe said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Tuesday.

The meeting on Friday was lead by Acting Eskom Group executive officer Jabu Mabuza, who promised to "create fertile ground to allow for unions and Eskom to have mutually beneficial engagements beyond his term".

"If there is one thing I want to have accomplished when I leave this post in the next 10 weeks, its to have created an environment where Eskom and unions are able to have more frank and robust discussions about the future of Eskom," said Mabuza.

Mabuza said Eskom together with the unions have agreed to further discussions.

Eskom is reliant on government bailouts as it struggles under R440bn of debt while reporting annual losses.

Labour unions have vehemently opposed layoffs at Eskom and have criticised the government’s plans to unbundle the power utility to cut costs.

Eskom said the meeting with labour unions will be followed by discussions with other stakeholders.