The Department of Water and Sanitation will oppose a court application by union Solidarity to reverse the deployment of engineers from Cuba in South Africa.
In a statement on Saturday, the department said it was satisfied that it had addressed all concerns raised by the union.
“The department reiterates that the input of the Cuban engineers in the work of the department is very minimal and only a fraction of the technical engineering work implemented by the department. Their presence is meant to support and complement the technical engineering work in the department.
“Therefore, the provisions of the EPA [Engineering Profession Act] and the ECSA [Engineering Council of South Africa] do not prohibit the use of foreign engineers by entities and government departments in South Africa.”
Solidarity said it had met with department officials, asking that the programme be suspended, and had further presented a list of 132 engineers who it believed could do the work.
Department officials requested an opportunity to present an alternative proposal, and the deadline was extended twice, but the proposal was never received, the union said.
According to the department, a virtual meeting was held last week where questions were raised by the union and answered by officials.
“One of the key questions raised related to the registration provisions of the EPA. In this instance, the department can state that it is aware of the registration provisions of the EPA and notes that the ECSA has not yet made it compulsory for engineering professionals to register with the council.
“Therefore, there was no need to ensure compliance with the Act in so far as it relates to the secondment of the Cuban engineers in South Africa.”
Solidarity filed an urgent application, asking the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria for an interdict that would prevent Cuban engineers from doing any work on South Africa’s water infrastructure, and that no payments be made in relation to the agreement between government and Cuba.
The union’s CEO Dirk Hermann said that “importing engineers” was outrageous when the knowledge, competence and accreditation of willing engineers were available in the country.
Hermann said in a statement on Wednesday: “These Cuban engineers are not accredited in South Africa. Our tax money can much rather be used to employ our own engineers and workers.
“We cannot look on while the Minister [of Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu] squanders resources through her irrational decisions. Our priority is to promote the interests of South African workers.”
Sisulu announced last month that 24 Cuban engineers would arrive in the country to transfer knowledge and skills on water and sanitation.
She added that this was because Cuban engineers possessed speciality skills that their South African counterparts did not have.
The matter has been set down for a court hearing on 1 June.