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Subsidised fancy meals for Eskom workers amid power cuts

State power utility Eskom is spending an undisclosed fortune on lamb chops, chicken casserole and cream croissants served to thousands of employees at a substantial discount.

About 17,000 people, comprising 37% of all staff working at the parastatal, have access to dining facilities and canteens that provide subsidised meals. And the army of contractors building new power stations Medupi and Kusile also receive hot meals, which comes at an additional cost estimated to exceed R1.5-billion. Despite Eskom’s current cash crunch, catering contracts continue to be issued to feed employees. Subsidies range from 50% to 80% per meal. On Thursday in Cape Town, Eskom staff sat down to chicken casserole, liver and mash, vegetables and salads for lunch. The subsidised price, excluding dessert or a drink, was R7.50, while the full price was R35.60.

Subsidised meals are a longstanding tradition at Eskom, especially for staff in remote locations, negotiated with unions as a condition of service. Trimming fat off this perk is a contentious issue. “Workers get used to these things and if you take them [away] you’ll get a riot,” said Steven Nhlapo of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa). He said if food subsidies were cut, executives’ bonuses and salaries should get the chop. Some food and beverage costs have been curtailed and extravagant meals served in the executive dining room are no longer subsidised.

Two five-year contracts to feed contractors at Medupi in Limpopo and Kusile in Mpumalanga are the biggest of their kind in the country — at a cost of R1.4-billion. Hot lunches consist of mutton and beef lasagne, curry, grilled fish and bottled sparkling water.