Protests force Eskom in South Africa to extend power cuts

June 24 (Reuters) – South Africa’s state-owned electricity company Eskom said it would be forced to extend power cuts on Friday and over the weekend as union protests linked to the stalled negotiations wages disrupt operations.

The utility, which has struggled to meet power demand in Africa’s most industrialized nation for more than a decade, has implemented “phase 2” spin outages since the start of the week.

But it will increase the severity of “phase 4” outages, requiring up to 4,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity to be removed from the national grid, from 11:00 a.m. local time until midnight (09:00-22:00 GMT) on Friday.

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Phase 4 outages will also be implemented from 05:00 local time until midnight on Saturday and Sunday.

“While exploring possible solutions to unblock the standoff with the unions, Eskom calls on its union partners and striking employees to embrace the overriding goal of putting the people of South Africa first,” Eskom said in a statement.

Eskom said earlier that the protests had included incidents of employee intimidation and blockades of roads leading to power stations. The company asked the police to restore order.

Negotiations with unions, including the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, broke down on Tuesday. Eskom’s wage negotiations have become complicated in the past, leading to similar protests that have hampered operations.

The loss-making utility, struggling with a huge debt approaching 400 billion rand ($25.12 billion), is trying to contain costs as part of turnaround efforts under chief executive Andre de Ruyter. Read more

Reforming Eskom is a priority for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government, but efforts to improve the performance of power plants have yet to bear fruit.

Eskom has a total nameplate capacity of 46,000 MW, but it said on Friday more than 20,000 MW was offline due to outages and scheduled maintenance.

($1 = R15.9266)

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Reporting by Anait Miridzhanian and Alexander Winning; edited by Susan Fenton and Jason Neely

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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