Union halts tariff hearing

Lee-Anne Butler

ENERGY regulator Nersa is to return to the Eastern Cape next month to restart public hearings on Eskom’s proposed tariff hike after proceedings at a hotel were disrupted yesterday by protesting trade union members.

The members of Numsa – which is affiliated to national federation Cosatu – said the talks venue in Port Elizabeth was not accessible to all.

The hearing at the Summerstrand Hotel was one of a series being held throughout the country on proposed Eskom electricity price increases of 16% a year over the next five years.

About 90 minutes into proceedings, a group of about 60 union members entered the venue and disrupted the meeting while a Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber delegation was making a presentation objecting to the increases.

The unionist said the venue was not accessible to the majority of people in the Bay who would be severely affected if tariffs were increased.

The members also said that hearings should take place in other centres throughout the province. They said they would not allow the hearing to continue until these demands were met.

After holding a brief meeting with the members, Nersa panel chairman Thembani Bukula said it had been decided to postpone the hearing until an agreement on a venue could be reached.

Nersa “will rather plan to return during the first week of February. We have decided to look at their proposals and revert back after we come up with a more appropriate plan,” Bukula said.

He disclosed the panel had expected picketing outside the venue, but had not expected the disruption.

“This is not the first time this has happened as we have had to adjourn before in Johannesburg and in Durban but it is the first time that we have had to postpone until a later date,” he said.

In a statement later, Nersa said it condemned the action, as the union members had broken an agreement that they could picket outside, provided they did not enter the venue or bar anyone from entering or leaving.

Numsa national treasurer Mphumzi Maqungo said while the union had not initially planned to disrupt the meeting, officials accepted a mandate from their members that it should not be allowed to continue.

One reason was accessibility and the second “that the rest of the province, the poorest in the country, is not being represented by the meeting being held here”.

Cosatu provincial secretary Mandla Rayi said: “We noticed the unhappiness when our members started to sing. The lyrics led us to believe that they were not happy with the process and concerns were raised that those severely affected were not able to attend.”

Rayi said Nersa had agreed to engage the union and together they would plan a more appropriate venue and look at other towns in the province.

Meanwhile Eastern Cape Local Government and Traditional Affairs MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane also called for Nersa to hold hearings in rural and township communities rather than “in lofty hotels in urban suburbs, far away from the homes of ordinary people”.

Venues should include community halls, churches and local stadiums.

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