Dismissed workers have started using concrete blocks to barricade roads leading up to the site where a power plant is being conducted in Shakaskraal. Photo: Supplied

Durban - Construction of a foreign-funded private power generation plant on the North Coast is still on hold while dismissed workers, in defiance of a high court interdict, continue to stop access to the site by blockading the main road and all access roads to it.

On Thursday lawyers for Group Five Projects – which is building the R550 million Avon Power Peaking Plant at Shakaskraal for an Italian Consortium – went back to the Durban High Court asking that the interim interdict granted last week, aimed at stopping the blockades and violence, include a wider area around the site. They also wanted the interdict to be made final.

But Judge Anton van Zyl said this would result in “criminal sanctions” if it were ignored, which could inflame a volatile situation even further.

A union representative of the 500 workers dismissed because of wildcat strikes and violent protests – who identified himself only as S Mbatha – attended court and told the judge that not all had been served with the court order.

“We want to get everyone together and go through all the issues,” he said.

When the judge pointed out that the interdict did not interfere with their rights but only stopped “unlawful conduct” and the union could ultimately be held responsible for any damages, Mbatha indicated that the union wanted to “stop this from going further by speaking to them”.

Advocate P J Combrinck, for Group Five, said the union had no instructions and could not give any undertakings. In the meantime, the barricading and protests were continuing and there were deliberate attempts to circumvent the interim order.

But the judge said while he would extend the interim order, “these things are best solved by agreement” and “this would give the union some breathing space”.

The Mercury reported on Thursday that the fate of the project was hanging in the balance because the site had been closed for more than a month, the company was facing penalties of up to R1 million a day and its wages and plant costs were almost R20 million a month.

The project – similar to one in the Eastern Cape – represented foreign investment of about $1 billion (R13 billion) in the country.

The workers have already been dismissed and rehired once. According to a document before the court, their grievances related to payment of transport subsidies, additional pay for working consecutive shifts, and general workers doing semi-skilled work and not being paid for it.

Their latest dismissal – at the end of August – was after violence erupted on the site, with people injured and assets damaged. The site had to be shut down, but when new workers were hired and an attempt was made to start work again last week, the former employees, armed with pangas and sticks, erected the blockades.

In a further affidavit filed on Thursday, the human resources director for Group Five, Cindyanne May, said that after the order was served on Monday, the barricades were erected again, and had continued unabated in the presence of the police. “We have not been able to continue construction.”

The Judge adjourned the matter until October 21, directing the respondents to file any papers before then.

The Mercury