According to several constructions workers at the Coca Codo Sinclair hydro-electric plant east of Quito, employees have been warned by project managers not to discuss last weekend’s deadly cave-in on the site with the media. The 1,500 megawatt plant is scheduled to become operational in early 2016.
The accident in a pressure chamber killed ten Ecuadorian and three Chinese workers. Thirteen more were seriously injured in the cave-in that was caused when higher than expected pressure from the surrounding underground aquifer flooded the chamber.
“They are telling us that we will be fired if we talk to the newspapers about what happened,” said a Coca Codo employee. He said that workers have complained for months to supervisors about what they say are unsafe working conditions throughout the project. “This didn’t need to happen,” the employee said. “We didn’t need to lose our friends.”
All workers who spoke to the media asked not to be named.
Several workers told reporters for El Comercio and Televisa on Sunday that the Chinese construction company managing the project, Sinohydro, has been told repeatedly about dangerous working conditions in the pressure wells.
The workers disputed a statement by company officials that all safety standards had been followed.
“Three days before the accident, the Chinese engineers examined the well and saw the problems but did nothing,” one worker said. He also said that construction workers in the area are not issued hardhats, masks or work suits. “The Chinese do not seem concerned about our health,” he said.
According to workers, the threats were delivered by Marcelo Reinoso, administrative assistant to a Sinohydro project manager. “He told us not to talk to television and newspapers and said we could lose our jobs if we did,” one employee said.
Reinoso denied that he had made any threats but said that workers needed to maintain a positive working attitude. “We do not want unhappy people here, but people with a cheerful attitude,” he said.
Sinohydro’s director of human relations, Miriam Baldeón, said that her office will meet with all workers concerned with working conditions on the project. “We abide by all safety requirements and will continue to do so,” she said, adding that her staff is meeting with Ecuadorian Social Security officials to review safety procedures.
Ecuador Attorney General is investigating the accident but says he believes there was no “malicious intent” leading to the accident. He said he will continue to meet with representatives from Synohidro. “We want to be sure that safety procedures were in place and were appropriate prior to the accident,” he said.
In addition to safety issues, some workers say that there are serious cultural differences between Chinese management and Ecuadorian workers. “They don’t understand us and they don’t respect us,” a worker said.
Several families of those killed and injured say they intend to pursue legal action against Synohidro.
Coca Codo Sinclair is one of eight hydro-electric projects currently under construciton in Ecuador, including two in Azuay Province. All are partially funded by the Chinese government with construction managed by Synohidro.