PPC creates 70 extra jobs at cement plant

PPC has made an “extra effort” to create 70 more temporary local jobs at the SK9 expansion project at its North West Slurry cement plant, following a government investigation into the presence of at least 242 Chinese workers at the factory.

In late January, the departments of home affairs and labour began investigating how the Chinese nationals obtained permission to work and live at the plant for up to three years. They are employed by Chinese company CBMI Construction.

Labour federation Cosatu and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) also looked into the matter.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla and the NUM’s Livhuwani Mammburu were unable to comment on the matter this week.

The department of labour found that employees at the Slurry site weren’t registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).

“When we conducted inspections in February, we found that the company had not registered employees with the UIF. This has since been corrected,” said the department’s chief inspector in North West, Boikie Mampuru.

PPC spokesperson Siobhan McCarthy didn’t respond to an email this week seeking comment on the status of PPC’s workers and whether they had been signed up with the UIF.

Mampuru said all sub-contractors at the site were compliant.

The department of home affairs gave the presence of the Chinese workers the all clear.

McCarthy said 70 more local employees were recruited after January.

Previously, PPC said the SK9 expansion would not create any permanent jobs, but about 140 temporary local construction jobs and other employment.

McCarthy said this brought the number of total local temporary jobs on the project to about 200.

The increase was due to PPC’s “extra effort” to create jobs for locals on the project.

McCarthy said the 242 Chinese nationals working on the site in January had valid visas.

“In June 2017, the Slurry SK9 project entered its final phase, requiring the specialist skills of commissioning engineers. The department of home affairs has issued all visas required for the completion of the project,” she said.

The department of home affairs said “nothing was amiss” at the Slurry plant.

“We felt that any delay to the project would not be in the national interest,” department spokesperson David Hlabane said.

“Therefore, we advised PPC to make use of the services of the department’s foreign office coordination and corporate account units for advice on application and processing of visas, particularly when new projects are scheduled.”

The Chinese workers were employed as part of PPC’s project to add capacity to its Slurry plant, with a R1.7 billion investment into its new kiln.

Hlabane said CBMI registered a local company to help employ local workers and to acquire work visas for expatriate workers with the required skills.

“To compliment the CBMI workforce on site, CBMI employed skilled and unskilled labour from nearby communities.”

The initial inspection at the Slurry site was conducted on January 30 and 31. The preliminary report on the Chinese workers was submitted in February and the final report was completed in May.

McCarthy said everything from PPC’s point of view was resolved in June.

Hlabane said the main reason the Chinese workers were in the country was because of their “specialised skills”.

McCarthy said home affairs subsequently issued all visas CBMI employees needed for the project to be completed.

Hlabane said home affairs took into account that the construction of the new plant was in its final phase.

Work started in October 2015 and is scheduled to be completed next year.

In making its decision, the department considered the anticipated cost to PPC and to the South African economy in the event that PPC did not finish the project on time.

Another issue considered was that major equipment performance guarantees, as stipulated in the contract, would become null and void if supervisors and/or engineers from the manufacturers did not supervise the installation and commissioning of this specialised machinery.

PPC would not get the training to operate and maintain the new plant, Hlabane said.

“To ensure that [PPC’s] employees have the necessary skills and knowledge to operate and maintain the new plant, offshore training schedules would be provided. This will ensure the transfer of specialised skills and knowledge from the Chinese specialists to PPC Slurry employees,” he said.

A total of 320 intercompany transfer visas were issued to CBMI Construction, which won the tender for the upgrade project.

In January, department of labour spokesperson Mokgadi Pela said an application had been received for 400 Chinese nationals to work at the PPC plant.

This figure tallies with the 400 available positions CBMI advertised in The Times newspaper at the end of July 2015.

The advertisements stipulated that there was “no accommodation available – provide own”. There were also “no relocation fees”.

However, a compound was built to house the 242 Chinese workers on the site for the duration of their stay.

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