Cape Town - Eskom will remain reliant on foreign welders to
work on its new power plants as it will not be able to train local staff fast
enough to do the job, officials told Parliament on Tuesday.
The utility's chief commercial officer Dan Marokane told MPs
it expected to use an estimated 1 300 to 1 500 highly-skilled welders until
2015 at its Medupi and Kusile plants.
Its welding academy had an intake of 100 trainee welders a
year, and at this rate would not be able to qualify enough people to produce a
purely local welding team even by the time the projects were completed.
"Our programme indicates that if we continue on the 100
number per annum, we will have 700 over a six-year period from now,"
Marokane told Parliament's portfolio committee on public enterprises.
He said the projects required an average of 16 welders a day
and that there were only enough highly-skilled local welders available to make
up about a quarter of the team.
The shortage of local staff had "cost implications for
the project", but there was no way around it because work on the plants
was of a sophisticated level that needed highly skilled labour.
Eskom human resources head Bhabhalazi Bhulunga said the
company could not cut corners on skills because the new plants needed to remain
in operation for decades to meet South Africa's growing energy needs.
"The welding we are talking about, it is a complex
skill. It is definitely not the simplistic that we are all used to. Even if we
do train people and they qualify this year, you will be hard-pressed to pitch
full-strength into doing the welding on our boiler development that we will be
using for the next 40 years."
Violent labour unrest, triggered at least in part by
unhappiness about the hiring of Asian welders by sub-contractor Hitachi, in May
brought work at Medupi and Kusile to a halt.
Marokane said the fact that Eskom's build programme was
partly funded by a R3.75bn World Bank loan also had implications for hiring
protocols, in that development finance institutions required sourcing for the
projects to be of an "international" nature.
He said Eskom should have tackled the issue of training
local workers to the required level earlier, but added that it was not the only
South African company suffering a skills shortfall despite rampant
"This is a broader issue beyond Eskom, it is an issue
that is also troubling the refineries. Refineries have been importing these
kinds of skills for years."
Eskom, Transnet and South African Airways were briefing
lawmakers on their training and job creation programmes.