Eskom has severe employee problems

Eskom’s staff are frustrated and unmotivated and work in an environment characterised by indifference, ignorance, and blame-shifting. 

This is feedback from the German consultancy group VGBE Energy, which the National Treasury commissioned to recommend how Eskom can improve its performance. 

The group of German engineers with extensive experience in running coal-fired power plants spent four and a half months studying South Africa’s ailing power utility. 

They pointed to several overarching issues, such as Eskom’s complex management system, inadequate maintenance, and failure to empower plant managers. 

Another major issue they pointed out was the low morale of the Eskom staff, which was created by a poor work environment and broken corporate culture. 

In particular, the report said that there is no reward system for good performance at Eskom, giving its staff no motivation to work harder and produce better results. 

“As a result of the continuous crisis mode, many employees are frustrated and demotivated,” the experts said. 

“In many areas, a working atmosphere characterised by indifference, ignorance and blame-shifting has been fostered.” 

The experts called on Eskom to change its corporate culture and recommended it implement an incentive scheme to encourage good performance at an individual level. 

For example, power plants should receive a bonus if they can reduce their losses by a defined percentage. Another incentive could be to provide accommodation for Eskom staff – free of charge – near the power plant.

Throughout their four-and-a-half-month assessment period, the impact of the current situation on the workforce was clear. 

Eskom’s employees had low morale and a lack of motivation, coupled with a heavy workload with long working hours in a demanding working atmosphere. 

Crucially, the experts also noted that Eskom has delayed or deferred many of its training programmes, resulting in a workforce with adequate skills but little improvement. 

“The competencies of the technical managers are at a reasonable level, but there is greater potential for improvement,” they said.

“We repeatedly noticed that there is a high degree of theoretical knowledge. However, its application is made very difficult by the complex management system.”

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa

These comments from the German consultancy group echo those of Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, who said last year that “there are people issues at Eskom”.

“Workforce morale was extremely low because there have not been incentives in place for a number of years due to legacy issues and the quality of performance,” he said.

Eskom has not paid out performance bonuses since 2017.

These issues have nothing to do with the leadership of Eskom, according to Ramokgopa, but are due to a lack of job security.

With Eskom’s ageing coal-powered fleet slowly being decommissioned, people are losing their jobs, and more jobs will be lost.

Eskom closed the dilapidated Komati plant last year and will close another 5 of its 14 remaining coal-fired plants by 2030.

Thus, people are not incentivised to apply themselves at Eskom, Ramokgopa lamented. “The people needed to run these plants do not see their future at Eskom.”

Since then, the government and Eskom have decided to delay the shutdown of plants such as Camden and Hendrina to mitigate the country’s chronic power shortage.

That decision has helped improve worker morale at affected stations because they now “know there is life beyond 2025, and they will be able to continue feeding their families”.

Ramokgopa said he had asked Eskom’s management and board to re-introduce performance incentives for employees at power stations based on the station’s performance.


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