In a bid to further grow the steel industry and curb job losses, the South African Institute of Steel Construction (Saisc) is aiming to expand into the metal and power line sectors. The institute recently launched two independent subassociations: the Power Line Association of Southern Africa (Polasa) and the Southern African Metal Cladding and Roofing Association (Samcra).
Newly appointed Saisc CEO Paolo Trinchero says the insitute hopes to help retain jobs in these sectors. “Both these sectors rep- resent massive employment opportunity and growth potential in the local steel construction industry and both are under constant threat from foreign suppliers. The formation of formal representative structures will ensure high standards, competitiveness and better representation in government structures, thus alleviating this threat to a great extent.”
The power line sector has been experiencing a decline in recent years. Hundreds of jobs have already been lost and 6 000 more are at risk. The industry has termed this era the ‘crisis period’. One of the biggest companies in the sector, Babcock Ntuthuko Powerlines MD and Polasa chairperson Gary Whalley says the sector needs to be rescued and, without Saisc, more jobs would have been lost.
“One of the major problems is the slow rate at which State-owned power utility Eskom is able to obtain servitudes and access the rights to build power lines,” he notes.
Whalley says the biggest irony is that, in an environment where much work needs to be done, the industry is slowing down to the extent that, in the recent past, six contractors in the power line and associated industries were liquidated or applied for business rescue. Futher, no significant enquiries were issued for more than 22 months and the industry faces up to 12 months without power line work.
There are also 14 contractors servicing the extra-high-voltage (EHV) industry, directly employing more than 6 000 people. “These jobs must be secured and that is what we aim to ensure,” he notes.
Polasa’s fundamental task will be to turn this situation around. It is tasked with helping the local industry make interim arrangements and to take advantage of the fact that power line construction is integral to the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) – of the 18 Strategic Integrated Projects, six contain transmission and distribution infrastructure.
“According to Eskom’s Transmission Development Plan, the demand indications for EHV lines of 275 kV, 400 kV and 765 kV for the period 2013 to 2017 total 7 610 km (1500 km of new lines every year) followed by5 393 km of new lines or 1 000 km/y in the period 2018 to 2022,” Whalley says. “When one considers that, by March 2014, about 1 500 km of new high-voltage lines will have been built in the past two years, the enormity of the task ahead and the huge potential for the local industry are clear.”
One of the main protagonists behind the formation of Polasa, Saisc’s Kobus de Beer, says that Polasa will actively promote the development, growth and flexibility of its members to ensure that they achieve its set goals. He says they will deploy various measures to ensure this, including training and education initiatives; the development of export markets; adding value to engineering issues applicable to the industry, in close cooperation with Saisc; adding value to Eskom, using activities such as the Eskom Safety Improvement Project, by creating a platform to facil- itate bilateral discussions between Eskom and industry on issues not dealt with elsewhere; the publishing of various design and engineering handbooks; and organising seminars, talks and conferences.
De Beer says that Polasa will support healthy competition between entities and will accept participation by foreign companies prequalified to build lines in South Africa for Eskom.