Covid-hit Polihali workers say they’re starving

Covid-hit Polihali workers say they’re starving

MASERU-ABOUT 25 employees from the SCLC joint company sub-contracted at the multimillion maloti Polihali Dam have been grounded at home since December last year.
The workers were sent home in December at a time when there was a surge in Covid-19 cases in Lesotho.

In January this year, they went back to work but were returned to their homes after three of them had Covid-19 symptoms.
“After three of us showed some Covid symptoms, the remaining ones were not tested,” one of the employees said.
He said they were all sent back home.

He said they were told that they would be called back later.
Later when the employees were hoping to return to work, they were told that their work had been interrupted by the heavy downpours.
Floods damaged crops and left farmers in disarray.
Some bridges were also washed away.
Amongst these employers are nine drivers and all of them were never called back to duties.

Amid the frustration they were experiencing, they got Whatsapp messages that they had been laid off.
The workers said they hoped they would still get their salaries since their contracts were still valid.
They say they are now starving.
Last week, 20 workers were called back to work leaving the other 25 still at home.

They said they are failing to plug the gaping holes in their pockets because they do not have any income.
The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) Public Relations Manager, Masilo Phakoe, said in terms of the current government of Lesotho’s Covid-19 Risk Determination and Mitigation Framework, all mining and massive construction projects including the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) are only permitted to continue with construction activities on condition that the contractors provide on-site accommodation for all employees.

And that all the employees are tested for Covid-19 at the commencement of each shift cycle.
He said SCLC is a joint venture appointed by the LHDA for the construction of the Polihali Diversion Tunnels.
“Like all other contractors appointed by the LHDA the SCLC is bound to comply with all government of Lesotho Laws,” Phakoe said.

“This includes Covid-19 health and safety regulations and protocols, as determined by the Ministry of Health from time to time,” he said.
He said the SCLC notified the LHDA that in terms of the new Covid-19 regulations, which require all workers to be accommodated on site, they have to reduce the workforce so that they can be accommodated on site.
He said 70 workers were affected by the change.

The LHDA said it is continuing to engage the Lesotho authorities, including the National Covid-19 Secretariat to consider and review parts of the legislation.
“We hope that the accommodation requirement will be reviewed,” Phakoe said.
If the government’s Covid-19 Risk Determination and Mitigation Framework is updated and the accommodation restrictions are revised for levels of medium to low risk of transmission, Phakoe said, it is possible that the affected workers may be reemployed within the period of the contract.

He said the SCLC in consultation with the LHDA has looked at and implemented the option of creating additional accommodation by converting the labour camp club house into a dormitory and provision of port cabins.

Phakoe said given that it is impossible for the contractor to accommodate all the workers on site, the contractor was forced by circumstances to reduce his workforce, till such time that additional accommodation is available or there is a change in the regulations.

Majara Molupe

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