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NC community to turn to court over ‘influx’ of workers from other Provinces

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These community structures are preparing to apply for an urgent court application to prevent an influx of over 200 workers from entering the Province to work at the Bokpoort solar plant near Groblershoop out of fear of Covid-19 infections.

Bokpoort Concentrated Solar Plant. File image. Picture: Carla Bernardo / ANA

COMMUNITY structures are preparing to apply for an urgent court application to prevent an influx of over 200 workers from entering the Northern Cape to work at the Bokpoort solar plant near Groblershoop from June 1. 

Groblershoop ward councillor Abraham Tobias called on the premier to intervene as he indicated that the community feared a “high risk” of Covid-19 infections. He pointed to the lockdown regulations that prohibited the movement of persons between provinces. 

“While there is a high unemployment rate in the area, general workers are being brought into the Province, while Covid-19 restrictions are still in place,” said Tobias. 

“The project managers claimed that they have obtained approval from the Office of the Premier to bring in more than 200 workers from other provinces to come and work at the Bokpoort solar plant from June 1. This is despite the Covid-19 risk, which is a very serious concern for the community at large. Members of the community have threatened to take action as they fear being infected by the Covid-19 virus.” 

The spokesperson for the Northern Cape Civics Organisation in Groblershoop, Elricko Smith, stated that there were currently no confirmed Covid-19 cases in the town. “However, there are no guarantees that we will not become the next hot spot in the absence of testing, screening and undergoing a 14-day quarantine before the workers commence on the site.” 

He added that the company had obtained an interdict against the community to prevent them from accessing the site, after they handed over a memorandum regarding the employment of local community members. 

“We want to know who granted the company permission to transport workers across the borders in contravention of the Disaster Management Act regulations,” said Smith.

National Union of Metalworkers’ shop steward Dikwebe Sejane believed that the workers should be accommodated at the camping site at the plant and not at accommodation facilities in town. He also questioned the hiring of workers from other provinces

“The workers who were subcontracted to work at the plant are residing in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and other provinces. How do you hire a painter and sweeper from another province when we have trained artisans and graduates in the community with the requisite skills and knowledge and yet are unemployed?” 

The chairperson of the Northern Cape Civics Organisation, Ross Henderson, was not convinced that only “experts” would be brought in to conduct maintenance work at the solar plant.

“You do not need 200 specialists. The civics organisation will bring an urgent court application if no action is taken to halt the influx of general workers without being tested. If anyone falls ill due to Covid-19, the company must be held liable for culpable homicide,” said Henderson. 

“This also sets a precedent for other contractors to do the same without following the regulations. 

“Companies are enriched through big capital projects in the Province, without sowing back into the community.” 

One of the establishments that will be accommodating the workers pointed out that experts and technicians were considered to be part of essential services. “They will be working on the turbines and the power station, failing which Groblershoop may be without electricity.” 

He stated that the workers were required to submit a certificate to declare them Covid-19 free. 

“The workers will be screened every time they enter the solar plant site.” 

The owner indicated that his rooms would be occupied for seven days and the employees would be served their meals inside their rooms with disposable cutlery and paper plates. 

“They will be required to clean the rooms themselves and they will be provided with hand sanitisers. All personal protective equipment must be disposed of properly.” 

He added that after the occupants left, the rooms would be ventilated and remain vacant for seven days. 

The company indicated that it had met with the Department of Health yesterday after concerns were raised by community members. 

It stated that the media enquiry it was sent had been forwarded within the organisation “as per internal policies”.

The Office of the Premier denied having any knowledge about the influx of workers from outside the province to work on the solar plant. 

The spokesperson for the Office of the Premier, Bronwyn Thomas-Abrahams, indicated that at no stage had the premier granted any company permission to bring workers into the Northern Cape. 

“The Office of the Premier, through the Provincial Joint Task Team, will investigate this matter,” said Thomas-Abrahams.

Media enquiries were also directed to the Department of Health, but no response was received.