Trade unions meet to discuss continent’s energy woes

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy logo. Picture:

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy logo. Picture:

Published May 17, 2023


In order to address energy poverty, capacity scarcity, and the challenge of climate change, leaders from 17 trade union bodies will be meeting at the Parktonian Hotel in Johannesburg from May 16 to 18 for a regional policy meeting on trade union-led strategies for a "public pathway" approach to a just energy transition.

Leaders in attendance include representatives of eight national workers' centres, two Global Union Federations, and four allied research centres, representing a total of 15 countries.

The Regional Policy Meeting, which will take place over three days, is being sponsored by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) South, a trade union platform committed to developing a "Public Pathway" approach to a just energy transition in the Global South, and will bring together unions and policy allies from sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

According to a press statement by TUED, union leaders need to discuss pro-public policy alternatives to the green structural adjustment proposals “such as the Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JETPs) being pushed by global neoliberal actors like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.”

TUED believes that there is rising support for a public pathway approach to a just energy transition and climate protection that can address the inadequacies of the current ineffectual and regressive profit-focused policies.

The launch of TUED South in Nairobi, Kenya, in October 2022 showed increasing union interest and participation in energy transition.

The primary aims of the gathering are:

1. Consider ways South unions and their allies can collectively respond to the regressive “green structural adjustment” privatisation agenda embedded in the Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JETPs) currently being promoted by the rich countries and neo-liberal policymakers.

2. Further develop alternatives to the JETPs that are consistent with the public pathway approach. These alternatives must address SSA realities, principle among them being the lack of generation capacity, persistent and worsening energy poverty, and the “death spiral” of national public companies.

3. More clearly articulate the “reclaim and restore” approach to the national energy companies; the need to halt the incursions of the IPPs, and to shift towards a direct procurement model as an alternative to power purchase agreements (PPA).

4. Begin a process of assessing the potential of different technologies and how these might feature in the public pathway vision of a just energy transition.

Solly Phetoe, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) commented: "The energy challenges that South Africa faces cannot be solved by continuing to follow the same neoliberal policies that have failed us in the past. It is essential that we adopt a public pathway approach that prioritises the needs of our people over profit.

“For too long, the most vulnerable members of our society have been denied access to affordable and sustainable energy, while the wealthy few have reaped the benefits of an exploitative system.”

South Africa Federation of Trade Unions’ (Saftu) Zwelinzima Vavi shared the view that working together to “develop alternatives that are consistent with a public pathway approach and address the realities of energy poverty, lack of generation capacity, and the ‘death spiral’ of our national public companies.”

Vavi believes that retaking control of South Africa’s national energy firms and putting a stop to Independent Power Producers (IPPs) from unbundling Eskom and privatising electricity in our country should be made a priority.

“This regional policy forum is a timely opportunity to strategise for a future where energy is a public good that benefits all, not just the wealthy,” Vavi concluded.

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