The decision by South Africa to import Cuban engineers to the country could face a major legal challenge from trade union Solidarity which has already sent a legal letter to the ministry of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation.
In the letter, Solidarity asks that the Cuban engineering programme be suspended immediately and that assurance be provided regarding the legality of the Cubans’ licensing and registration.
Already, the group has sent a list of more than 120 competent and willing engineers to Lindiwe Sisulu, the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation.
Last week, Ms Sisulu welcomed the arrival of 24 Cuban engineers in what she says is a move to address the water crisis within South Africa.
But Solidarity says that local engineers could offer more expertise at a lower cost than the import of Cuban engineers.
But Sisulu says the Cuban engineers are not in the country for employment.
Instead, she says, they are in South Africa to mentor and transfer skills to municipal workers and also help repair South Africa’s ailing water infrastructure. The Department of Water and Sanitation has confirmed that around R65-million will be spent on the engineers over the next two years.
Solidarity’s letter also raises a major concern as to whether the Cuban engineers have been registered and licensed in terms of the Engineering Profession Act of 2000.
“It would mean that the Cuban engineers are 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,” said Solidarity Chief Executive Dr Dirk Hermann.
Solidarity also wants to know whether the advice and recommendations of the Engineering Council of South Africa were obtained and whether the requirements of the framework for the engineering profession have been met.
He also requests that all information regarding the legal basis of the decision be disclosed.
The Department’s spokesperson Sputnik Ratau says each engineer will be paid R2.5-million a year and that it is not a full time employment.
“This is for us for the next year to two years. But obviously, this is not about creating a competition between our compatriots and the Cuban engineers. Those have come here for a specific reason.”
Last year, government brought more than 200 Cuban health professionals, mostly doctors to South Africa, at a cost of R400 million to help in the fight against the coronavirus.
Solidarity argues that it is unjustified to import foreign workers in the midst of an unemployment crisis, in which South Africa’s official unemployment rate is currently at almost 33%, when even better options are available locally.