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‘Legislature is not fit for occupation’

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“The building is in a worse state than what it was in before any work was done to the building."

UNHAPPY: Staff members at the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature yesterday protested outside the building to raise concerns regarding health and safety issues. File image

THE NATIONAL Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has insisted that all staff be relocated with immediate effect due to the dangers posed at the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature.

The R37 million refurbishment project at the legislature is still not complete, two years after the contractors arrived on site.

Staff returned to the legislature precinct in January, although many areas are still unfinished, including the toilets, while some of the tiling is incomplete, and staff staged a picket on Monday to highlight the hazardous working conditions and fire dangers that they are being exposed to.

Nehawu national spokesperson Khaya Xaba said yesterday that if no alternative accommodation was found until the legislature building is considered fit for occupation, workers would continue to gather at the front gate.

“The employer has been given until Wednesday (today) to respond to the demands of the workers, failing which workers will continue to report at the gate because that is considered to be the safest place in the building.”

Xaba said he found it “deplorable” to expect workers to occupy a building that did not comply with occupational health and safety standards.

“The building is in a worse state than what it was in before any work was done to the building.

“Nehawu is in the process of opening an inquiry with the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) in relation to the contract that was awarded for the renovations done at the legislature building. All the structural defects that were identified by the employer were never attended to.”

Xaba pointed out that the only visible renovation that has been completed is the painting of the walls.

“Toilets that were in good working order were destroyed. Smaller ablution blocks were installed, a bit of paintwork, tiling and the kitchen was refurbished. The air conditioners are not working and there are no basins in some of the toilets.

“It is the first time in the history of the new democratic South Africa that putting in new tiles and 15 new toilet ports cost government
R30 million.”

Xaba also questioned the high rentals of the BP Jones and Metlife Towers buildings, at a cost of over R700 000 per month, while the legislature precinct was being renovated.

“During a meeting that was held in February, between Nehawu and the legislature management, the secretary to the legislature confirmed that there might have been some fraudulent activities on the part of the contractor and quantity surveyors who claimed for electrical work yet there was no electrical work done.”

Xaba added that legislature officials refused to report the poor workmanship and tardiness of the contractor for investigation.

“In a meeting held on March 19 with the employer, the accounting officer, Patrick Moopelwa, was requested to open an inquiry with the Hawks to investigate the actions of the contractor.

“To our disappointment, the secretary to the legislature said that in terms of the contract they are prohibited from reporting the contractor to any law enforcement agency, where certain processes and steps must be followed before the matter can be reported.”

Xaba stated that the failure of management to take responsibility for the safety and occupational health of their employees was “shocking”.

“For the past five months, the lives of employees have been compromised. Every week, workers are booked off sick because of the hazardous environment in the legislature. It is clear now that staff at the legislature are nothing but like cattle who have been dumped from one kraal to the other without any consideration for their health and safety.”

Xaba highlighted the slow pace of the investigation into the prosecution of fraud, corruption, defeating the ends of justice and wasteful expenditure that the union had opened against high-ranking officials of the legislature in October 2017.

“The investigation was taken over by the Kimberley branch of the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation. In January 2019 the Hawks submitted its findings and recommendations to the National Prosecution Authority to make a decision on whether to continue to prosecute or not. So far there has been no response by the NPA on what course of action they intend taking.”