Solidarity to take the case of Cuban water engineers 'to a new level'

The trade union on Tuesday disclosed that the Cuban engineers are appointed as employees at much higher cost than SA engineers

02 June 2021 - 07:00 By shonisani tshikalange
Minister of water and sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu said she was ready to defend in court her decision to deploy Cuban engineers.
Minister of water and sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu said she was ready to defend in court her decision to deploy Cuban engineers.
Image: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

Trade union Solidarity said on Tuesday that the Cuban engineers working in SA do have employment contracts and are earning up to R300,000 per year more than South African engineers.

The trade union disclosed on Tuesday that part of the engineers' remuneration was extensive fringe benefits including flights for holidays in Cuba, furnished accommodation, food and telephone costs.  

According to the trade union, this is though water and sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu publicly stated that the Cuban engineers were not employees of the department and would not receive a salary.

“There is now no doubt that the Cuban engineers actually have taken the jobs of South African engineers and are paid more, and that taxpayers will have to pay more than was initially stated,” Solidarity CEO Dr Dirk Hermann said.

On Friday, the trade union said it had agreed with the water and sanitation department to withdraw its court case over the employment of Cuban engineers in SA from the urgent roll. According to the union, the case had, to a large extent, already accomplished its purpose.

The trade union had taken the matter to court, asking that the deployment of the engineers be suspended. As part of their case, they had proposed a list of 132 local engineers who said they could do the work.

During their briefing, the trade union said it now has sufficient information to continue with its review application to have the minister’s decision to appoint the engineers declared invalid. 

“The court battle will therefore be taken to a new level,” said the union.  

The trade union said it also discovered that the Cubans do not meet the South African requirements for registration and licencing.  According to Solidarity, taxpayers will probably pay around R75m for the project, and not R64m as stated.

“Apart from paying their salaries, taxpayers are expected to fund several benefits as well. Among other things: flights so that they can return to Cuba for holidays while they are employed here, all costs of flying them here and back, furnished accommodation, food and clothing, transport, internet, cellphones and extra money to make landline calls to Cuba, and many more.

“This is an absurd slap in the face for our local engineers who are just looking for work and who cannot even dream of such benefits,” Hermann said.

He said the information from the department indicates that they had misled the public regarding the nature, scope and cost of the project.

Solidarity said the department tried to have the Cubans registered but later decided against it due to administrative problems.

“Similar projects have been driven by the department and Cuba for more than 19 years and in the meantime, we only see our water infrastructure deteriorating even further. In addition, the pandemic only worsened the unemployment crisis in SA. It is a shame that our government is failing their own workers this way,” said Hermann.

The department said it has noted Solidarity's intention to take the matter back to court. The department said the trade union's second attempt to approach the court on was unfortunate and bordered on xenophobia, bitterness and hate for the people of Cuba.

“The ministry and government of SA have had a government-to-government agreement with Cuba for decades and the department is not about to move away from it because of Solidarity.

“It is worth noting that Cubans played a crucial role for SA to attain its freedom. The historical ties between the two countries precede the pre-1994 dispensation. As we continue to build a non-racial and inclusive SA and forgetting about the past, the ministry would like to advise Solidarity not to be tempted to embark on a cheap point scoring exercise at the expense of a hard-won democracy,” said the department.

Ministry spokesperson Steve Motale said the department wanted to emphasise that the information Solidarity claimed to “disclose” is what the department had deposed in court and, ultimately, given to them.

“At no point did we try to do otherwise. The ministry and the department wait in anticipation another court action by Solidarity and hopefully the matter will be settled once and for all,” said Motale.

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