Coal strike threatens power supply

The coal strike currently under way will threaten the immediate ability to provide electricity, the unions and state power company Eskom said on Tuesday.

Industrial action began on Monday, with more than 50% of the workforce in the sector joining the strike, according to the Chamber of Mines.

Fears are mounting that a protracted strike will severely affect coal supply to Eskom, which will then lead to possible electricity shortages in the short to medium term.

Eskom’s coal supply currently stands just under 38 days, the power utility’s spokesperson Tony Stott told the Mail & Guardian, adding that the supply could quickly be diminished depending on the speed that stockpiles are replenished once industrial action ceases.

“Without a doubt this will stunt our ability to provide electricity if the strike is prolonged. The real question is if whether enough can be produced to make up a potential shortfall when it’s all over,” Stott said.

Eskom also confirmed the cold weather currently gripping the country would contribute to a drain on coal supplies.

Lesiba Seshoka, the spokesperson for the NUM, disputed the claims of Eskom’s stockpile, telling the South African Press Association (Sapa) the amount of coal stored could be far less.

“It could have very serious negative effects on the entire economy, the people on the ground are telling us they have only three weeks’ stockpile,” he said.

Talks underway
The Chamber of Mines is currently holding negotiations with the the NUM, Solidarity and the United Association of South Africa (Uasa), representing various companies in the sector such as Anglo Thermal Coal SA, Delmas Coal, Exxaro, Kangra Coal, Optimum Coal and Xstrata Coal.

It is yet to be established what any renewed offer from the Chamber will be, with the last offer being 8.5% for the lowest paid worker and 7% for other employees.

Solidarity is pushing a 12% across the board increase, with the NUM and Uasa both demanding 14% across the board.

‘No load-shedding’
Although there have been hints of scheduled power cuts from the NUM and other parties, Eskom assured the public that all efforts were being made to avoid power cuts.

“We would have to introduce other contingency plans as we are not considering load shedding as a viable option at this stage,” Stott said.

As part of Eskom’s measures to avoid power cuts, they have called on all consumers to save power where possible.

“We should be cautious and as such we are appealing to all consumers to use electricity sparingly,” Stott cautioned.

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