An R80-MILLION construction site came to a dramatic halt on Friday at Rhodes University after building activities were brought to a halt by Deputy Labour Minister Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa and his director-general Thobile Lamati who found life-threatening risks to workers during an unannounced visit there.
Department inspectors found that the construction company, CMHRB – a joint venture between top contractors CM Heunis and Roy Bowles – were flouting a number of safety regulations on the construction site of student residences at the university.
The two Grahamstown contractors are some of the largest employers of unskilled labour in a town burdened by high unemployment.
The deputy minister and director-general were leading a roadshow to Grahamstown, who were shocked to uncover life-threatening conditions linked to scaffolding, protective clothing, and unprotected holes and trenches.
Holomisa said yesterday it was shocking that leading companies were subjecting workers to such dangerous conditions.
“These are the same companies that snubbed our business breakfast meeting on Friday morning, where we called all businesses in the region to discuss job creation and economic growth strategies.”
Holomisa said the companies thought the session was just going to be another talk shop that would yield no results, and had accused the department of chasing away foreign investment with their stringent policies.
“It is very sad that we find these same companies to be flouting the labour laws.”
Holomisa said they had ordered the contractor to rectify all the problems before work resumed.
“The rights of workers must be respected if we want a vibrant economy. The private sector is failing us,” the deputy minister said.
Numerous attempts by the Daily Dispatch to reach the responsible contractors for comment yesterday met with failure.
Holomisa’s department was on a four-day tour of the City of Saints to strengthen ties with business and organised labour.
The construction of the three residences – referred to as New Hall 7, 8 and 9 – are designed to each accommodate 88 students, Rhodes’s spokeswoman Veliswa Mhlapo said.
Mhlapo said: “Rhodes University is aware that an inspection by the Department of Labour took place on Friday. We however, await a report from the safety consultant appointed for the project before we can comment on this matter”.
The residences are situated on the upper part of campus. In a statement to the Dispatch yesterday, labour spokeswoman Ziphozihle Josefu said her department would in the next few months intensify its inspections over various sectors.
“The Eastern Cape province has a high rate of fatal incidents in the sectors of agriculture, chemicals, iron and steel as well as construction,” she said. — firstname.lastname@example.org