2nd LD Writethru: Labor action forces South Africa's power utility to implement severe power cut

CAPE TOWN, June 28 (Xinhua) -- South Africa's power utility Eskom on Tuesday announced that it will enhance the level of load shedding from the current Stage 4 to the more severe Stage 6 in certain periods on Tuesday and Wednesday, citing unlawful and unprotected wage-related labor action that caused disruption to the utility's power plants.

This is the worst power outage since 2019. Eskom has only implemented Stage 6 load shedding once, in December 2019. Stage 6 load shedding will be implemented from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. on Tuesday and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesday, while Stage 4 or Stage 2 will be implemented during other hours, it said in a statement.

Eskom said the labor action has caused widespread disruption to its power plants, which compels it to continue taking precautionary measures to conserve generation capacity and safeguard plants from damage.

Before the latest announcement, Eskom last Friday said it would raise the load shedding from Stage 2 to Stage 4 most of the time from Friday to Sunday due to "unprotected labor action", following a deadlock in wage negotiations.

On Sunday, it decided to extend Stage 4 until this Wednesday after labor action at power stations impacted planned maintenance and repairs.

Eskom currently has 3,218 megawatts (MW) on planned maintenance, while another 17,621MW of capacity is unavailable due to breakdowns.

Trade unions have been demanding a 10 percent wage increase while Eskom only offered a 5.3 percent increase.

A major South African trade union representing workers at Eskom, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), told Xinhua on Monday that it doesn't know when the negotiations will resume.

Another union, Solidarity, also said it doesn't know the date for the resumption of the talks, and denied involvement in the labor action.

The impact of Stage 6 power outage on businesses is "huge", and small businesses are "the hardest hit", Dawie Roodt, chief economist at Efficient Group, a leading financial services group in South Africa, told Xinhua in an interview.

"The economy loses billions every day. The economy of South Africa is likely to grow lesser depending on how long the power cuts continue," he said.

Small businesses don't have the resources to buy generators, therefore they can't operate during power cuts, said Roodt, adding that unavailability of service is detrimental to businesses.

Smaller shops in Cape Town's busy Long Street have felt the effects. Staff members were standing or sitting by the door of shops along this commercial street around 5 p.m. after Stage 6 started, while the interior was dark.

"There is load shedding now, people can't see inside, even the swipe machine can't work," said 39-year-old Shakil Khan, sitting by the door of a grocery store.

"Customers are not happy and I don't sell anything," he said, adding that fewer customers visit the shop during load shedding. Khan said he can feel that the power shortage became more serious over the past one to two years.

Fasto Daniru, working for another grocery store along Long Street, said the store can't sell cold drinks during load shedding while food that needs cold storage could go bad," he said.

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