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South African unions call for a Just Transition to renewable energy


Unions reject government plans to close five coal-fired power stations and award renewable energy contracts to independent power producers (IPPs) without a Just Transition plan in place. They say this will put close to 100,000 workers out of work.

To push for their demands, workers from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) took to the streets of Pretoria on 17 November and marched to government offices at the Union Buildings where they read out a memorandum of their grievances. However, the government officials who were supposed to receive the memorandum did not show up.

Coal powered stations produce over 90 per cent of the country’s electricity and unions are aware of the high levels of pollution. They also know that South Africa is a signatory to the Paris Agreement adopted at CoP 21, but say a plan should be put in place for an energy mix policy that will extend the life of the coal mines to 2030. They are also asking the government to introduce a socially-owned renewable sector instead of giving the mainly solar and wind renewable energy contracts to businesses but not communities. The unions are irked that they were not consulted when 27 IPPs were given contracts.

Irvin Jim, the general secretary of NUMSA, says:

“We demand a Just Transition, which will ensure that workers at coal-fired power plants who may lose their jobs as a result of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, will be trained and absorbed into the renewable energy sector.”

The unions are also against the privatization of the public power utility Eskom which they say will lead to further job losses. Instead, they are urging the government to facilitate better management of Eskom and to end the corruption that is rife at the state-owned enterprise.

David Sipunzi, the general secretary of the NUM, adds:

“We call on the government to refrain from biting the hand that feeds the state. Scrap the power purchase agreement that favour private capital at the expense of Eskom.”

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary stresses:

“This joint action taken by NUM and NUMSA is an important example on union solidarity and cooperation. IndustriALL Global Union is fully behind the legitimate and reasonable demands of the unions and  will give every possible support until a fair deal is reached.”

The Just Transition deal reached by the unions and the government in Spain is a model for South African unions. The deal included fair early retirement packages, and additional payments for workers with asbestosis. Provisions were also made by the government for waste management, recycling facilities, water treatment plants, cleaning the air and infrastructure development.


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