Workers of Colombo port city project urge government to lift suspension

Source:Xinhua Published: 2015-3-10 13:46:14

The gates leading to a multi- billion-dollar Port City project in the capital Colombo now remains closed following a temporary suspension by the new Sri Lankan government last week.

Just days ago, more than 5,000 local workers filled up this area as much work needed to be done to complete this $1.4 billion project which would highlight Sri Lanka as a world maritime hub.

If finished, the project will completely change the face of Colombo, which was once severely affected by a 30-year-long civil war. While attracting a large number of tourists each year, the off-shore city also expects to attract investment topping $20 to $25 billion in the coming years.

The project will include a small yacht marina and areas for water sports along with luxury condominiums and shopping malls. Over 100,000 direct and indirect employment opportunities will also be generated with the completion of the project.

However, all this work has now come to a standstill. With a temporary suspension, thousands of workers now stand at the site, expecting the government to lift the suspension soon.

"So much of work remains to be completed. We have no jobs now at the government's sudden decision. This site was once filled with activity. But today we just stand on the side, watching our hard work being wasted," G. Chandrapala, a worker of the project, told a group of journalists at the project site on Monday.

The workers have completed almost 13 percent of the work and now due to the sudden suspension, much of their work seems to be getting washed away.

"You can never stop a marine project half ways. This is not like constructing a building or a hotel. If we stop, the sea destroys our work. There is not much we can do to protect our work, " the Marine Senior Engineer of the Colombo Port City Project, Ramith Wijesoma said.

On a tour of the site, workers seemed to sit idle and the expensive machines seem to gather corrosion. The site which was once filled with activity 24 hours long has nothing but rough waves breaking into the rocks which have been erected to protect much that has been built.

Workers say they worry for their livelihoods as the Chinese company funding the project had guaranteed them with jobs for over 10 years.

"No one in the parliament or the government thought about the workers who are involved in this project. We are all from poor families. What are we to do now? Where will we earn our bread and butter? We were being paid well but now suddenly the company has informed us that the project has been temporarily stopped," A. Somapala, who had been working on the site since its launch, said.

Workers, who also shouted angrily at the journalists present, said that if there was anything negative in the project, the concerned organizations would not have given the approval for the project to go ahead in September.

"Suddenly the government cannot stop a project ignoring the plight of the workers. The necessary approvals were obtained and we know we are not doing anything wrong. In fact this project will improve the country. Stopping work has also crippled so many companies who are linked to this project. What are we all to do now?" Somapala queried.

The Environmental Manager of the Project, Thusitha Chandrasekara, said the company had been submitting the necessary environmental reports to the relevant authorities every month and a thorough check was being conducted so as to ensure there was no environment damage or no laws being violated while construction has been ongoing.

Chandrasekara said all the relevant permits had been obtained before launching the project in September and expressed dismay at the new government's decision to conduct a fresh query.

"We have been submitting reports every month to the relevant authorities which include checks on the air quality, the noise and vibration, the water quality and the environment impact assessment. Everything of ours is in place and legal. Therefore we are sure that within two weeks the government will give us a green light to start the project once again," Chandrasekara said.

However, two weeks seem to be a long time for the workers as many say that almost six percent of their work may be destroyed due to the high tide. If given the green light after two weeks, workers said that work would have to recommence all over again in a desperate attempt to re-build all that has been washed away.

"Marine projects are very difficult to halt. These projects, unlike others, cannot stop even for a day which is why we have been working day and night. If we stop even for a day, we lose a lot," Health and Safety Environment Manager of the Project Kusal Perera said.

Meanwhile, following the suspension, the China Communications Construction Group who is funding the project said that it will respect the new government's decision to halt work and hand over all the valid permits and approvals issued by the relevant government authorities.

The company further said it will continue paying its labourers their daily wages despite the suspension due to their poor financial backgrounds.

"As the decision of the government, our company has decided to temporarily hold the construction work of the Port City project with immediate effect in complying with the Sri Lankan government legislations," Chandana Gunewardena, deputy project manager of the Colombo Port City said.

"However this temporary suspension has created a severe adverse impact on us, our suppliers as well as our direct and indirect service providers. This has had a direct impact on our families and our livelihoods," Gunewardena told journalists as thousands of labourers continued to look on with a little hope that the media could help.

Posted in: Asia in Focus

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