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Work halted on nursing project

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DISGRUNTLED: A protest erupted at the construction site for new nursing student accommodation, which is being built next to the mental hospital.

BUILDING at the construction site for new nursing student accommodation, valued at more than R160 million, came to a halt after sub-contractors and workers downed tools.

This follows complaints from both sub-contractors and workers, who said on Monday that the contractor on site repeatedly failed to pay them timeously.

The workers stated further that they were still waiting for their June salaries.

“There are more than 100 general workers on the site but every month we struggle to get our salary. We complained to the contractor that this was causing many problems between us and our families. We have many financial responsibilities and we cannot make excuses to our children’s schools or stores because we did not get paid. It is placing us under major strain. Since we started working here, there has not been one occasion when we were paid on time,” said the workers.

They added that they were “working like slaves” and accused the company of not adhering to labour regulations.

“More than 30 general workers were retrenched by the contractor last Friday. The employer did not give any reasons for terminating the contracts. The retrenched workers went to the Department of Labour to claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). However, they were informed that we were not registered and were therefore not entitled to claim. We were surprised as the company has been deducting UIF from our salaries.

“The company has also never supplied us with payslips since since we started working.”

They said that their pleas for assistance from the Department of Public Works had also fallen on deaf ears.

“We told the community liaison officer (CLO) about our plight but nothing has been done. We also told the CLO that the work on the project was shoddy but nothing came of it. As workers we are concerned about the operations on site. This saddens us as the construction is meant to accommodate our children in the future.”

The six sub-contractors expressed the same frustrations as the workers.

“We are all local sub-contractors from the Province. We were hired as the department wanted locals to do the work on the site. We also appointed local general workers from within the Province. The contractor, however, is from another province and does not have the wellbeing of the workers at heart,” the sub-contractors said.

They added that they also faced the same struggles as the workers.

“This is the third month that we have struggled to get payment from the contractor so that we can pay our workers. The contractor pays us weeks after the period stipulated in the agreement,” they said.

The Department of Roads and Public Works said that it was aware of the situation.

Department spokesperson, Crystal Robertson, said that the department had issued the contractor with a deadline to sort out the matter.

“The department has a standing agreement with the main contractor, Base Major Construction, who in turn appoints sub-contractors and these parties have a binding agreement. The department is aware of the matter regarding the workers, and we issued the contractor with an instruction to solve the matter within 14 calendar days,” said Robertson.

She added that the construction should be completed by February 2018. “The construction commenced during February 2017 and the project should be completed during February 2018. The project value is R161 421 286.74 and there are currently six sub-contractors on site.”

A director of Base Major Construction, Stephen Lu, said that the delayed reflection of payments were due to the company and workers using different banks.

“We have always paid on time. Some banks took a bit longer to reflect payment but that is only because the company and the workers use different banks. We have asked workers to change their accounts. We usually also send proof of payment to show that the money had been paid,” said Lu.

He added that they will investigate the retrenchment claims.

“We are not aware that workers had been let go. We will investigate the matter and see what led to the dismissals,” he said.