Cape Town – Disgruntled workers at Medupi power plant on Thursday morning allegedly placed burning tyres on the road entering the construction site to stop buses carrying people to work and then physically pulled them off the bus, according to eyewitness accounts and Eskom.
Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said that some of the 1 700 workers who were currently facing disciplinary action or who were fired had on Thursday intimidated workers from entering Medupi and ordered them to stay away from work.
Other sources who were at the scene, but who asked to remain anonymous, said they saw people being physically pulled off the bus.
The witness said there were police and private security officers at the scene, while another witness wrote on Facebook that police had water cannons on standby.
“Only about 3 000 of the 8 000 blue collared labourers got inside, because those workers arrived before 08:00, when the intimidation occurred,” he told Fin24.
“They placed tyres on the road and set them alight,” he said. “The workers on the bus were not able to come to work because of that incident and fear that they might get hurt.”
After the incident, the workers allegedly moved to the nearby town of Lephalale to convene a meeting, sources at Medupi informed Phasiwe.
Lephalale community newspaper Northern News tweeted at 13:50 that there was “lots of activity in town”.
“We don’t want anyone to be hurt and now we fear even less people will come to work tomorrow,” he said. “We can’t afford any delays at Medupi and would like the workers to come back to work while we resolve their issues.”
Most of the affected workers were part of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), who said that Thursday’s action was not a strike, but a stay away in protest of its workers being fired via SMS for the March 25 strike that took place.
“To their credit, Numsa has made it clear that this is not a strike,” said Phasiwe. “Eskom is in the process of organising a meeting with Numsa to engage them on these issues.”
“We have maintained that our doors are always open,” he said.
Numsa told Fin24 that Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown should intervene in the issues at Medupi. Phasiwe said that Eskom “is doing what we have to do”.
“If the minister wants to get involved, she will do so at her own discretion.”
Numsa on Thursday said its members joined the dismissed 1 500 in a gesture of solidarity to compel employers to reverse the dismissal motion.
Numsa regional organiser Mahlodi Modike said workers arrived peacefully by bus en route to the construction site.
"They alighted and joined (the) expelled group as we agree on boycotting the unfair dismissal," said Modike.
Eskom sent Fin24 these photos from 2015 of Medupi power plant (with the completed Unit 6) on Thursday:
Eskom sent Fin24 these photos from 2014 of Medupi power plant under construction on Thursday: