Construction work at a coal fired power project in South Africa has ground to a halt over a labour dispute.

Reuters Africa has reported that thousands of workers at the Medupi project stayed away from the site on April 13 in protest at the firing of some of their colleagues.

The news means more delays to the 4764 MW power plant, the first unit of which was synchronised to the grid last month.

Eskom contractors last month fired around 1000 workers for taking part in an illegal strike at Medupi in mid-March.

According to the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), some 21 000 workers embarked on a protest action in mid-March to highlight their grievances over working conditions at Medupi. A ‘memorandum of demands’ was submitted to Eskom by NUMSA members.

Eskom started building Medupi in 2007 and the plant was due to reach first power by 2013. It will be the world’s largest dry-cooled power plant and will supply around 12 per cent of South Africa’s power needs when complete.

Delays in the project have been caused by labour unrest and technical faults with work undertaken by contractors, including Hitachi Power Africa and Alstom. In 2013 Eskom said it would fine Hitachi and Alstom for the costs incurred as a result of the delays.

The last of Medupi’s six units is now scheduled to be synchronised in 2019. The project is a key part of Eskom’s capital investment programme, which aims to boost power generating capacity.

Sian Crampsie