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Claims by injured workers could 'go into millions' - Labour Minister

by Shaun Benton
on 26 Jun 2008
BuaNews Online
BuaNews Online

Claims by workers over the deaths and injuries that occurred in a construction incident at a building in Stellenbosch earlier this month could run into millions of rands if the matter went to court, Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana said on Wednesday.

The minister was briefing reporters on labour issues when he suggested that a court case would be a likely outcome of the 9 June incident in which three workers died and four were seriously injured and taken to hospital.

The incident occurred while a sub-contractor was demolishing a wall at an old wine cellar in Distillery Road, Stellenbosch, adding that the exact number of workers involved was not yet clear.

Mr Mdladlana said damages claims from the incident would likely "go into millions of rands".

He pointed out that many of the workers' names appeared to be unknown at this stage, and that the sub-contractor himself was also injured and is still in hospital.

A concrete slab weighing about 150 tons fell on the group of workers in the 60-year-old building while an interior wall was being removed, said the minister, who briefed reporters at length on the incident.

The minister said he had been to visit one of the injured workers in hospital, and was dismayed to find out that the man, Zihlalele Jongo, would never be able to use his legs again.

The Department of Labour dispatched inspectors to the site in Stellenbosch immediately upon hearing of the incident, and they insisted that recovery workers do 24-hour shifts to retrieve the bodies of the three deceased, the minister said.

He queried why the employer, the subcontractor and the main contractor, did not even know the names of those injured.

There were suspicions that some of the workers may have been picked up in the street, which could explain why the department was not able to discover the names of the individual workers involved.

Expanding on why the department ordered the immediate retrieval of the bodies buried under the rubble and why a subsequent decision was made to demolish the entire building, the minister said: "We must make sure we show compassion, as South Africans."

Instructions had also been given to departmental inspectors to gain evidence that would be forwarded to the National Prosecuting Authority in the event of prosecutions.

Mr Mdladlana said he believed the matter would "end up in the courts, ultimately" but at this stage the primary concern of the department was to explore the possibilities of the surviving workers to receive unemployment benefit insurance and/ or other compensation in the immediate term.

Later in the briefing, the minister told reporters that the government expected all employers in South Africa - whether they are South African or not - to make sure they were compliant with all legislation governing the use of labour in the country.

This included compliance with the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which applies throughout the country. - BuaNews


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