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    LOAD-SHEDDING - Employers urged to make labour plans for total power blackout

    March 30, 2023 - Business Day


      Employers urged to make labour plans for total power blackout

      The Institute for Risk Management says it’s now incumbent on the SA risk community to develop clear plans for when there is no electricity at all

      Energy CorrespondentBusinesses in SA are being told to make sure they are prepared to react to a total electricity blackout. This would not only require an immediate response plan to ensure the safety of all workers, but businesses also need to know how they will manage the impact of such an event on their operations in the days that would follow.

      Christopher Palm, Institute for Risk Management SA chief risk officer, said that while reassurances have been given that the chances of a total electricity grid collapse are low, it’s now become incumbent on the SA risk community to develop clear plans for a blackout.

      "We believe SA has reached a stage where preparation for a complete blackout, which could last up to a fortnight, now need to be factored into strategic planning for the remainder of the year. It is better to have an unused plan than none at all."


      Palm said a first step would be to plan and set up a command or control centre comprising key personal including the CEO, chief information officer, head of security, head of human resources, head of communications, as well as risk leaders in the business.

      Businesses also had to develop a plan of approach and action that would need to be communicated to all employees. Staff associations and unions would need to be provided with this information.

      The declaration of a national state of disaster over the electricity crisis has raised many questions about the legal rights of employees to make changes to workers’ terms of employment in the event of a complete blackout or prolonged high stages of load-shedding.

      Fiona Leppan, a director in the employment law practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, said employers need to be proactive in putting agreements in place with employees in the event of a total blackout.

      "We’re heading for winter and our grid is under enormous strain. Though there are attempts to repair power stations such as Tutuka, which has suffered particular difficulties, there are no guarantees that the necessary repairs will be carried out in time to prevent high stages of load-shedding during periods of high demand this winter," Leppan said during a webinar hosted by the firm on Wednesday.

      Hugo Pienaar, a director in Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr’s employment practice, said the energy state of disaster differed from the Covid-19 scenario when in some cases the regulations resulted in a total shutdown of businesses.

      The energy state of disaster does not impose a total shutdown on businesses. For this reason, from a legal perspective, one would have to look at businesses’ ability to operate on a case-by-case basis. If load-shedding becomes so severe that a business is unable to operate, or if there is a total blackout, employers could consider placing employees on statutory annual leave, as many did during the Covid-19 state of disaster.

      "I think [the option of statutory annual leave] could be part of the long-term plan that employees should have as an alternative, because one morning you may arrive at work and all of a sudden there is a total blackout [that will last for] an unpredicted period. You don’t know whether it is going to last for a week or two weeks," said Pienaar.

      Employers should plan a framework agreement for such an event before it happens through consultations with employees and their unions.


      "Under the heading of job security and safety", actions such as short time, unpaid periods of leave, temporary layoffs, suspensions of employment or, ultimately, retrenchments, can be considered for a framework agreement, but there must be absolute open and transparent discussion between employers and employees.

      Such an agreement, said Leppan, should have a dispute resolution mechanism built into it to avoid industrial action as far as possible.

      It is possible that employees would, if necessary, be more flexible with regard to their conditions of employment in terms of layoffs, short time and even a reduction in pay, but there are just as likely to be employees who refuse any changes to their terms of earning capacity, she said. A framework agreement could then allow for a process for those people who refuse the changes to be retrenched without severance pay.


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