Energy Mix Choices and the Protection of Workers' Interests in South Africa

The recent power shortages and subsequent load shedding experienced by the country, on one hand, and the increasing recognition of the climate change problem have brought home the fact that South Africa requires a mix of all possible energy sources to meet its energy demand. Moreover, it has to do so while cutting down on its carbon dioxide emissions, emanating especially from coal burning power generation and whilst ensuring that the price of power remains affordable. Due to an increase in the consumption of electricity, which is expected to be twice the current levels by 2030, the country faces the challenge of establishing sustainable energy systems in the face of climate change. These pressures imply not only generating more electricity but ensuring that energy efforts are steered towards a lower carbon future and underpinned by attention to issues of equity and justice. This discussion paper describes the current energy situation in South Africa, existing and emerging challenges, and opportunities from labour perspective. It attempts to bring together available information on the current employment trends, health and safety implications, the costs, and linkages to other sectors of different energy sources. The purpose of this paper is not to propose particular choices or solutions, but rather to make available to the National Union of Mineworkers some background information and analysis on the energy choices confronting South Africa and the possible effect to workers. This paper’s information is drawn mainly from the presentations and discussions that took place at the NUM/SATRI Energy Symposium that took place in May 2017. Although the Symposium raised a very wide range of influences and pressures on energy choices, the paper maintains a focus on the more factual labour-focused issues underpinned by pursuing energy sources, not only for greater energy security and or environmental considerations, but also for the socio-economic development. The employment dimension of the energy sector is given ample attention.