Strike sees over 1,000 workers fired from Medupi coal power project

ByLynsey Chutel, Associated Press

About 1,000 workers in power beleaguered South Africa have been fired after an illegal labor strike halted construction on Eskom’s Medupi coal power project

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — About 1,000 workers have been fired following an illegal strike that halted construction at an already delayed but much needed power plant in South Africa, a spokesman for the state-owned power utility said on Friday.

Even more workers may be dismissed as a result of an investigation into the illegal strike staged by more than 3,000 workers that began Wednesday, said Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe. The illegal strike led to a day and half's work lost at Medupi, one of three new power plants expected to end rolling blackouts in South Africa.

The workers were demanding bonuses and an end to layoffs, according to a statement by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. They were also demanding improved conditions at subsidized accommodation near the plant.

The workers who were fired were already on a final written warning for previous illegal strikes, when they took part in this week's strike, said Phasiwe.

"They were given their marching orders," the spokesman said. The striking workers were employed by contractors.

The union refuses to accept the dismissal, describing it as an "illegal lockout." Eskom and its contractors did not follow the correct procedure in dismissing workers, union spokesman Castro Ngobese said.

"You can't just wake up in the morning and dismiss workers," said Ngobese.

The Medupi power plant in South Africa's northern Limpopo province has been the site of a number of strikes since construction began in 2007.

Eskom previously said they expect Medupi to be fully functional by 2017. Phasiwe said the plant will now only be completed by 2020, provided there are no more delays.

Frequent blackouts in South Africa, which Eskom has blamed on wet coal, a collapsed power plant and failing generators, have hurt the economy and caused problems for millions of citizens and for businesses.

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