400 jobs on the line

• LHDA terminates companies’ contracts, putting 400 workers in jeopardy • Trade unions vow to fight, accuse companies of exploiting ignorance • Construction, other works put on hold indefinitely

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Construction works at Polihali Dam

By ‘Majirata Latela

At least 400 workers are likely to lose their jobs at the Polihali Dam construction site after the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) this week cancelled its contract with HSPY and HSP joint ventures, which have since challenged the move in the court of law.

HSPY Joint Venture is made up of South Africa’s Hillary Construction (Pty) Ltd, Polokwane Surfacing (Pty) Ltd, Ya Rena Civils (Pty) Ltd and Lesotho-bred Structuretone Construction (Pty) Ltd.

The HSP Joint Venture consists of South African companies Hillary Construction, Polokwane Surfacing and Lesotho-based Structuretone Construction.

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On September 2019 the LHDA awarded the northern access road (NAR) rehabilitation contract to the HSP Joint Venture.

The tender, which is the fourth Phase II road construction contract, is estimated to be worth M284million.

theReporter has learned that on Monday this week, HSPY Health and Safety coordinator, Dion Mapindane, addressed workers informing them that the two joint ventures’ contracts were terminated with immediate effect forcing the works to cease immediately.

He said an instruction was received from LHDA to the managements of both JVs to stop all the work that the companies were doing. The chief engineer of all the projects that HSPY and HSP were doing also informed the JVs that there was a notice from LHDA terminating their contracts.

“On Friday afternoon we got the message that LHDA is terminating our contracts on the roads from Pitseng to Katse and Ha Seshote to Semenanyana. However, there have been queries on the termination which I cannot disclose now,

“Our management has responded to the termination. The engineers instructed us to pack and go.  The two joint ventures HSPY and HSP from Friday were told that the employer which is LHDA has terminated our contracts,

“Initially, for months there have been issues between the JVs, triggering the companies to seek relief from the courts of law. The cases were dragging for a couple of months; court orders were granted as well. On Friday at the courts of law there was a settlement agreement for the companies in the JV by the court,” Mapindane explained.

He further read the letter of contract termination to the workers

“The employer hereby terminates the above contract in terms of conditions of contract sub clause (15.2) and Termination of employer sub clause (15.2e) with immediate effect.

“The reason being that the contractor has been placed under provincial sequestration without limitation by the courts of law.

“The engineer will be onsite to ensure proper vacation on the site as contemplated in the contract,” Mapindane reads the letter which he said was addressed to HSPSY and HSP JVs.  

The publication has further learned that the workers employed under the two companies are panicking and wondering if their jobs are at stake.  Some are highly doubtful that the companies will offer them severance pay.

Approached for comment, Lesotho Workers Association’ secretary general, Hlalefang Seoaholimo, said the association represented about 400 workers from the two companies who were on the verge of losing their jobs.

He said the association had only been informed by the workers that LHDA terminated contracts for both HSPY and HSP.

“We have not been given any formal information from the two companies about the termination of their contracts. What is going to happen to the workers? We are still waiting for the companies to call us for a meeting so we can get to know what really transpired, and forge the way forward.

“We will be representing our workers so that we make ensure that if they lose their jobs, the companies pay them all the monies that are due to them. Maybe, we might to communicate with LHDA on how it could absorb the workers if there is such a possibility,

“However, we received some information that the LHDA and the two companies are resolving the matters. The workers are seemingly to be engaged on short time until the final decision has been reached,” Seoaholimo explained.

On the one hand, Construction and Mine Workers Associations Unions (Camau)’secretary general Lehlohonolo Motlomelo, was livid that the union was not informed about the new developments around the two firms.

“Even worse there are corrupt officials of the ministry who put workers at the risk of exploitation by accepting bribes from companies to let them get away with exploitation.”

He contended that a considerable number of workers in the construction industry are not well conversant with their rights. This ignorance, he showed, was exposing the workers to abuse and exploitation by the companies.

 “The ministry of labour and employment unfortunately is not doing enough to make sure that workers know their rights. Even worse there are corrupt officials of the ministry who put workers at the risk of exploitation by accepting bribes from companies to let them get away with exploitation.

“However, we as unions and associations, are working very hard to educate our members about their rights. Wed ensure they do not sign any documents before letting us know so that we assist them to make the right decisions.

“Another challenge that we have recognised is that some Basotho still don’t understand the importance of being part of the union. These unions and associations are not only important in representing workers, they are also vital in providing information on how workers can protect themselves from the employers,” he said.     

When awarding the tenders on the NAR and the Polihali western access road (PWAR), LHDA showed that the two roads were necessary for the transport of construction equipment, materials and tunnel boring machine components, which are to be used for the Polihali Dam and Transfer Tunnel.

LHDA further said that the project would resurface and repair part of the NAR, carry out safety upgrades and drainage works.

Additionally, the repair of cracked sections with asphalt, replacement of road joints at the three river bridges, repairs to site drains, improvement of Mafika-Lisiu view site, as well as repair works and ancillary road safety improvement, are also a part of the project.

The PWAR Western section is a 21.44km long road between Ha Seshote and Semenanyane River while the Eastern section is a 32.86km long road between Semenanyane River and the Polihali Dam site.

The Eastern section will end at confluence with the Polihali North Eastern Access road, currently under construction under a separate contract. The proposed Polihali western access road (PWAR) will tie into the northern access road (NAR) at Ha Seshote.

NAR provides access to the Katse Dam basin from Pitseng to Katse village. The NAR, which is scheduled to be upgraded as part of the Phase II advance infrastructure works, and the PWAR will form the major access corridor for construction equipment, materials and tunnel boring machine components for the Polihali Dam and Transfer Tunnel.

The construction of the Polihali Dam which is the centrepiece of Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is said to be progressing very well as the underground tunnelling on the two Polihali diversion tunnels is said to have reached a major milestone with a double breakthrough of the two diversion tunnels in August 2021. 

According to LHDA, the breakthrough marks the completion of 1,870 metres of the tunnel excavation and is a significant step in Phase II construction  

The LHWP is a project meant to build several dams in Lesotho to capture the waters of the upper Orange River basin and reverse part of its flow in order to provide South Africa, and in particular the Johannesburg region, with drinking water. Two tunnels are under construction to supply the Polihali Dam.

The dam will store part of the waters of the Orange River (Senqu) and the Khubelu River. Its concrete rock fill wall will be 165m high with a ridge length of 921m and a ridge width of 9m. At its base, the slope will be 470m wide. The dam will have a spillway with a concrete side channel spillway.

Approached for comment on Wednesday this week, LHDA’s public relations manager, Masilo Phakoe said LHDA was studying the court order and seeking legal advice.