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With signs that government’s infrastructure spending may ramp up in coming years, it is vital that affected communities and others in need of the services benefit and that the economy has a foundation on which to grow.
This means that civil engineering projects must be allowed to proceed without criminal disruption. The Bargaining Council for the Civil Engineering Industry (BCCEI) is helping to ensure that this happens.
After years of increasing intimidation and violence on large and small construction sites around South Africa, stakeholders are starting to work together to roll back this scourge.
These hopeful signs are important to the future of the country’s economy, as government prepares to invest in long-awaited public infrastructure. According to Lindie Fourie, operations manager at the Bargaining Council for the Civil Engineering Industry (BCCEI), it is encouraging to see growing collaboration among public sector organisations, business groups and other key participants.
“This year has seen the BCCEI develop and implement an Action Plan to serve its members, who are employers and employees in civil engineering,” says Fourie. “This plan is focused on making our work sites safe and productive again, after years of facing brazen intimidation, violence and theft.”
She highlights that civil engineering contractors prioritise the safety of their staff, and their contractual obligations to clients. With the rise of construction mafias and general crime in the country, many work sites have been forced to meet criminal demands or face life-threatening consequences.
“The situation in many areas is so serious that workers and employers are even too scared to report the criminals to the police – for fear of reprisal,” she explains. “The police in turn say they can’t act without a docket. With our new communication channels, we are exploring ways that incidents can be reported without jeopardising people’s safety.”
She argues that trade unions and employer bodies are at the heart of the BCCEI, and these groups work together to protect lives and jobs. This is the basis for growing South Africa’s economy so that standards of living can improve.
“This is why the BCCEI cannot ignore the devastating impact of criminality on construction sites, as this is destroying jobs and preventing growth,” she says.
The BCCEI’s Action Plan dovetails with other national initiatives to rescue the economy from construction mafias and other criminal activity; central to these efforts is the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure’s Anti-Corruption Forum. The BCCEI’s work has opened the door to collaboration with policing authorities, local government and other business bodies who are fighting crime.
“This year, we have been encouraged by the willingness of many of these stakeholders to join hands and push back against those elements who are eroding our industry and future,” says Fourie. “Of course, it is still early days in getting results, and we realise how difficult the process is going to be. However, a start has been made and everyone really needs to step forward now.”
She notes that the BCCEI has received compliments on its Action Plan, with stakeholders congratulating the bargaining council for helping to facilitate stability at disrupted work sites.
“We urge all organisations, companies and communities who are facing obstacles or threats to the successful execution of civil engineering projects, to contact the BCCEI,” she says. “We are developing a platform where people can raise their concerns and be provided with guidance on how to address the issues.” It was also vital to take steps to prevent the criminal disruption of sites – not just to respond after it happens. The work of the BCCEI therefore includes plans and procedures for contractors to engage with local and other stakeholders before a construction project was even started. Fourie says these interventions help to educate the community and alert the relevant local players of possible risks – so that these can be avoided by timeous action.