Gamtoos Irrigation Board office shut down by angry contractors

Workers want the municipality to take over the project

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Photo of protesters
Angry workers and contractors shut down the Gamtoos Irrigation Board offices in Joubertina. Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani

About 150 angry workers and contractors for The Working for Water Programme in Joubertina shut down the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB) offices on Wednesday morning. This comes after GIB failed to pay some of the contractors’ salaries since December, protesters claimed.

The demonstrators marched to the the GIB offices under a heavy police and traffic officer presence. They waved placards and sang: “The black Boers make us worried. Enough is enough. The Koukamma Municipality must take over the project.”

GIB is an implementing agent for a R32 million project of the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries under Minister Barbara Creecy, whose intervention the protesters are demanding.

Some 68 contractors, each with 14 workers, were appointed in November 2019 to remove alien vegetation and reduce forest fires, according to the demonstrators’ leader, Natasha Umtwa.

The contractors are working in Kareedouw, Langkloof, Joubertina, Louterwater and Misgund.

Umtwa said: “I was fired on 7 February for writing on Facebook about how this project has made us suffer instead of uplifting our social economic conditions.”

Umtwa said initially the project was meant to run for a year from July 2019, but was changed to six months with no explanation. It only started in November.

“Due to the delays in payments we have lost the workers … The transport drivers don’t want to take the workers to the fields because we have no money to pay them for their fuel.

“We finish the job in 20 days but it will take 30 days to be paid. This means we work for 50 days without payment,” said Umtwa.

“We are expected to finish these [alloted areas] in 20 days but we can’t because our workers cannot use the chainsaws. The training they were offered was poor,” Umtwa said.

She said the project was marred by favouritism in terms of who is paid and when. She said 29 contractors were participating in the protest.

Mayor of Koukamma Municipality Samuel Vuso and an advisor from Minister Creecy’s office, Mphikeleli Ndlela, received the workers’ petition.

Vuso said: “I can see the pain and suffering in your eyes. Hence today I called an adviser to the minister to come and address you … I will fly next week Wednesday and meet with the minister to discuss your grievances. Definitely the problem will be resolved.”

Ndlela said: “I promise that we will respond within seven days. There are many issues you raised. Some are contractual and others are violation of the workers’ rights. That means it will need the intervention of other relevant departments.

“We will look at short-term solutions like payments [and] long term solutions like the proposed taking over of the project by the municipality from GIB.”

After receiving the petition the angry workers shut down the office. They ordered the staff out and locked it.

Umtwa said: “We will close this office until the minister gives us the answers we want. We want our money, fairness, proper training and handing over of the project to Koukamma Municipality not the GIB.”

Edwill Moore, area manager of GIB, said: “I am not at liberty to speak to the media. Please speak to my CEO Riennet Colesky … She is out of her office now. Please direct your questions to her.”

GroundUp is awaiting a response from Colesky.

Ward 1 Councillor Jessica Plaatjies (ANC) asked the mayor to take control of the project. “In my office I am inundated by complaints of the workers who are ill treated and unpaid by GIB … This project was meant to uplift the poor. But the richer get richer and the poorest get poorer … Our people cannot suffer like this while as their leaders we see something is not right in this project,” said Plaatjies.

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TOPICS:  Environment Government

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