Pay us or else… construction workers threaten to down tools

Dangerous working conditions, scant safety standards, lack of proper working tools and non-payment of workers and sub-contractors are said to be some of the things that are driving workers and sub-contractors on the R95 million Erf 8448 Gugulethu Infill Housing Project, to threaten to down tools.

Operations were nearly disrupted at the project but then sub-contractors decided to engage the management of the contractor.

The group of about 10 sub-contractors met at the site to voice their concerns about various issues, including poor working conditions. They also demanded the immediate increase of rates and improvement of their working conditions.

“I can give you full details about the bad conditions we work in. The wheelbarrows are old. We have to take bricks from one point to another with wheelbarrows which are not working. There is only one scaffolding that we must all use. There is just a lot of bad happening here. But the worst is non-payment to us as subs.

“Since March 21, we have not been paid and we are expected to deliver. We demand an immediate action by both the provincial and the City of Cape Town’s human settlements,”said the chairman of the group, Jela Nyosi.

The sub-contractors threatened to march and close the site until their demands for better working conditions were met.

“We came here to provide a good service and we are still doing that. First we are Gugulethu residents, so we know the pain of the beneficiaries. They wanted houses yesterday and they deserve to have that as quickly as possible. But with this kind of treatment and conditions, that is not going to happen as quickly as they want it to be,” Mr Nyosi told Vukani.

The sub-contractors said they have written letters to the provincial department and the City’s human settlements department but there has not been any response.

In a copy of a letter sent to Vukani, the sub-contractors thanked the government for the opportunity to execute their skills but said, “We are extremely disappointed, angry and heart-broken about the way the authorities, the City of Cape Town and local government’s behaviour or treatment we received from them. As we are sub-contractors which are capable of executing the work efficiently and in accordance with the scope of work in Erf 8448 Gugulethu Infill Housing Project. We are working under a difficult situation where there’s lack of instructions or communication and transparency about the rates etc,” (sic) it reads.

They said because of the escalating cost of living and price and rate changes people are losing their jobs. “We can’t expect the same enthusiasm and quality from those working on the project due to these issues highlighted above. Building material has gone up. Sub-contractors have not been paid since they started working on the site; this is an ongoing situation which is not accepted.

“Put yourself in our shoes and tell how you would feel leaving home every morning and come home late in the evening without pay. This is uncalled for,” they said in the letter.

However, talking to Vukani, the sub-contractors still encouraged its members to provide the best job possible for the sake of the beneficiaries. “We want the beneficiaries to know that we are doing our best to deliver their houses but there are obstructions. But we encourage our members to work and deliver,” said Mr Nyosi.

The secretary of the group, Thoko Nxu, said they are dedicated to their work, but are working under bad working conditions. “We are in pain. We are not paid but we’re still working. We are in no hurry to disrupt work here. We want to deliver for the people of Gugulethu but the main contractor does not care about us,” she told Vukani.

They added that as sub-contractors they never benefited from the Covid-19 grant and that has put them under tremendous pressure.

Responding to some of the questions, Mayco member for Human Settlements, Malusi Booi, said the claims made by the sub-contractors are not true.

He said the health and safety plan contained in the main contract specifies that sub-contractors must provide their own safety gear and equipment when they are employed on site. However, he said the main contractor did provide them with scaffoldings, tools and personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the project in a voluntary act of assistance.

Mr Booi said City staff undertook two engagements with them on site, however, they were not satisfied with the response provided and thereafter demanded direct interaction with the Western Cape Government. Their request has been brought to the attention of the provincial government.

Mr Booi said construction work at the project continues and is progressing well. He said a total of 321 units are currently under construction, with 29 units scheduled for hand-over by the end of May this year. Another 128 units are expected to be ready for handover during July 2021.

The houses being built as part of the Gugulethu Infill Housing Project.
Sub-contractors showing some of their equipment they have to use.
About 10 sub-contractors held a meeting at the Gugulethu housing site to to vent their anger about alleged bad treatment from authorities.