Labour union Solidarity has announced it has started a legal process against Minister of Human Settlements, Water, and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu over the importation of Cuban engineers for water infrastructure projects in South Africa.
In a legal letter to the minister, Solidarity asked the recently announced Cuban engineering programme be suspended immediately and that assurance be provided regarding the legality of the Cubans’ licensing and registration.
“It appears that the Minister’s decision to import Cuban engineers is not only foolish and immoral, but also illegal,” Solidarity stated.
This followed a response from the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) which said that the engineers did not meet the requirements that would enable them to practice fully in the country.
“This means the group is paid a large amount of money, but they will be limited with regard to the work they may do, and in certain cases they will only be permitted to work under supervision,” Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann said.
“We now give the government the opportunity to explain. South Africa deserves an answer,” he stated.
Solidarity has requested the government to confirm whether all legal requirements were in place for the engineers to work in South Africa.
In addition, it has asked whether the advice and recommendations of ECSA were obtained and whether the requirements of the framework for the engineering profession have been met.
It has further requested that all information regarding the legal basis of the decision be disclosed.
Solidarity gave the minister until Friday 30 April to respond, and said the content of the answer would determine whether it would bring an application for an interdict against the minister.
Solidarity also said it planned to communicate with ECSA over the issue.
The government has taken flak from political parties and unions over the decision to use the engineers to help fix the country’s water crisis, rather than to source local talent.
In a recent statement, Sisulu labelled the response to the announcement as deliberate and engineered mischief.
She claimed that the Cuban engineers were not in the country for employment but rather to mentor municipal workers to create jobs.
“The jobs we will be creating as we roll out infrastructure programmes will be for South Africans,” Sisulu added.
“Today we have qualified black women engineers whom they mentored during their last stint in our country.”
The department has claimed it only received a response from five companies when it called for engineers to come forward to help with fixing the water infrastructure, and that these were now crying foul.
“Responding to my call is their prerogative, however whipping up negativity is not a way to a good working relationship,” Sisulu said.
She emphasised the Cuban engineers would help to repair infrastructure “because they have been dealing with ageing infrastructure themselves”.
Sisulu did not address the issue of proper registration for the engineers as required by ECSA, however.
Spokesperson for the department, Sputnik Ratau has told SABC News that they were aware of the registration issue.
“But we must also remember that in the context of the blockade against the government of Cuba, Cuban engineers and any other professionals have it difficult to be able to register with world organisations or even professional bodies within certain countries,” Ratau said.
Ratau confirmed that there would be a meeting with ECSA over the legal requirements.
Hermann said the question of legal requirements was aggravating but not the only factor which determined whether it was “right” that foreign engineers were being used.
“Solidarity has made available to the minister a list of 132 local engineers and other specialist skills that can do the job at a much lower cost than the Cubans,” Hermann said.
“In addition, Cuba’s own water infrastructure is in chaos. There is therefore no reason why the Cubans should be in South Africa,” Hermann added.