Cosatu mooted the redeployment of Eskom employees to work at municipalities at News24's Frontline panel discussion on Thursday, which also saw Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan say that government could shrink the massive civil servant wage bill without a job loss "bloodbath".
Gordhan, along with Cosatu's Matthew Parks, Nazmeera Moola, head of SA investments at Investec Asset Management, and News24's editor-in-chief, Adriaan Basson, tackled a wide range of issues in the wake of the national Budget on Wednesday.
One hot topic was the future of Eskom staff. Eskom has more than 46 000 employees, and according to the World Bank, it may be overstaffed by 66%. Parks said the utility has 800 managers who earn more than R2 million a year.
The financially-distressed power utility does not make enough money from selling electricity at current prices and volumes to pay the cost of interest on its R450 billion debt without state aid.
While Cosatu has demanded a moratorium on job losses as Eskom as part of its proposal to deal with the utility's debt burden, Parks says workers can also be deployed elsewhere.
"We are quite pleased that Minister Gordhan has said if there is a surplus of staff in generation, we can look at redeployment to where there is a shortage of staff in transmission or distribution or even to municipal electricity departments, where there is a skills shortage," said Parks. Eskom will soon be split into generation, transmission and distribution divisions.
Cosatu also wants state-owned enterprises to be included in the Public Service Bargaining Council. This would mean that Eskom workers would be subject to state wage determination.
During his 2020 Budget Speech on Wednesday, Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni announced an ambitious plan to cut the public sector wage bill of provincial and national departments by R160.2 billion over three years to rein in SA's budget deficit. Cosatu, and some other unions, slammed the proposal in the immediate aftermath of the address. The trade union federation said on Wednesday evening that the cuts were an attempt to "dump the bill for industrial-scale looting on public servants".
Gordhan said on Thursday that panic around lay-offs in the public service was not helpful, as government had various means at its disposal to reduce public service compensation costs without a jobs bloodbath in the public service.
"I think as you get into the nitty gritty, there are ways that we can accommodate each other. The private sector does very similar things. Some just slash and burn, others I have come across have large numbers of workers to deal with but have found innovative, supportive and creative ways of dealing with their work force," said Gordhan.