The FTTH Council Africa has warned that illegal striking and criminal elements threaten fibre deployment projects in South Africa.
FTTH Council Africa CEO Juanita Clark explained that despite their best efforts, illegal striking and criminal actions still occur in deployment of fibre infrastructure.
“When contractors disagree, they are being physically threatened by the communities in which they deploy fibre. In fact, the frequency of reports show that there is an upward trend in incidents relating to unrest taking place during execution of projects,” said Clark.
“Projects are delayed and this results in financial losses, and more generally a basic right of safety in the work environment. People must cope with a reduced sense of personal safety in the execution of their jobs.”
Techcentral reported that industry players are “pulling out of multimillion-rand build projects in areas from Soweto, near Johannesburg, to Sedibeng, a municipality in southern Gauteng, because of fears for the safety of their employees”.
According to the report these companies face armed gangs and become victims of local government authorities and criminals who try to extort money from them.
Problems with local communities
Clark explained that during the deployment of networks, operators are not allowed to bring external workers into the communities and have to employ labour from within the community or their projects are simply stopped.
“The industry has always agreed to this and followed basic steps which includes negotiations with local communities to identify employees,” said Clark. “They are then are then given training in trenching techniques and health and safety.”
However, a typical situation is that on day two the new recruits will strike and demand higher wages than what was initially agreed upon by all parties.
“Please note that members allow for daily remuneration far beyond minimum wages,” said Clark.
Further problems are caused when there is no adherence to the agreed amount of metres that they have to trench per day and employees will simply lay down tools.
“This means that operators have to re-negotiate daily wages – a time consuming exercise. In some instances they have had to employ security to protect themselves and their employees. Projects are delayed by months with substantial cost to the industry,” said Clark.
Guns in their faces
“I appreciate that construction has certain inherent risks and uncertainties and projects get delayed, however, it is not strange for guns to be waved in the faces of contractors trying to do their jobs,” said Clark.
Some contractors have fled from project sites where they feared for the safety of themselves and their employees.
“In fact, companies will not even be named for fear that they may be targeted next time they have to deliver projects,” said Clark.
Government help needed
Clark argues that the situation is “calamitous” and that government needs to step in and support the industry with potential solutions to the situation.
“The concern with these types of offences are well justified given its negative effects and the economic impact on the industry,” said Clark.
The economic costs of the situation indicate that these problems have become serious obstacles to sustainable broadband deployment in some areas, said Clark.
Unless something is done, said Clark, the dream of ubiquitous broadband access in 2020 will never realise and will cost billions more than anticipated.
Clark added that they will approach the Department of Communications in this regard and ask for an audience with the Minister to discuss the matter.
“We feel that it is critical that these problems be discussed between the Minister of Communication and the Minister of Police. The industry is happy to participate and provide inputs in these matters for all parties to understand the most prevalent issues,” said Clark.