South Africa: Unpaid Asbestos Removal Workers Close Primary School

6 February 2020

"We ask for material and we are told we will share. They buy things in single boxes. Something is not right here," says worker

On Tuesday teachers and learners were locked out of Philani Primary School in Imbali, Pietermaritzburg, by disgruntled local workers who said they had not been paid for January.

The workers are from a number of subcontractors employed by a company called Phamodia on an R8.9 million asbestos removal project that started in December 2019. The project is for six months. (We can find no record of Phamodia in a company search.)

Philani Shange, a subcontractor, said the company had promised workers that they would be paid on the last day of each month. "The subcontractors are working without any signed documents or appointment letters. They have been promising to bring the papers but they haven't. ... When we ask, they promise to bring the papers. We are just working and that is worrying," said Shange.

"I'm one of the people who was trying to get hold of one of the owners. I sent messages but they did not respond," said a female worker, who is employed as a painter. "Seeing that we were not taken seriously, we closed the school."

She also complained that they have not received the materials they need to do the job properly, including basics like nails and screws. "We ask for material and we are told we will share. They buy things in single boxes. Something is not right here," said the worker.

Coordinator of the project Tshepo Moetshu said the workers will be paid on Friday. He said they were awaiting a payment from the Development Bank of South Africa.

Ward councillor Thami Sithole said, "We have spoken with the workers and the company owners. They both reached an agreement that workers will get their salaries on Friday before 2pm. I have urged the workers to allow teachers and learners to school on Wednesday."

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