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CHILE

‘Spanish firm built our bridge upside down’

The grand opening of Chile's first ever drawbridge has been delayed after allegations at least one traffic deck had been installed upside down. Now the country's president is blaming the project's Spanish developer for the mistake.

'Spanish firm built our bridge upside down'
Bridge over troubled water: A computed generated image of how Chile's first drawbridge should operate. Screen grab: YouTube

The $30-million (€22-million) drawbridge project was supposed to open this month, and become an instant landmark connecting Valdivia with Teja island by bridging the Cau Cau River.

But it has ended up a laughing stock in local social media, as Chileans wondered how construction workers managed to mess up something as seemingly clear as up and down.

Twitter users in Chile have parodied the building error with (fake) images like the one in the tweet below:

The fail has also got President Sebastián Piñera a bit defensive. "It can be fixed, … and it will be fixed by the company that made the mistake," Pinera said dropping the ball in the court of Spanish infrastructure builders Azvi.

Inspectors getting ready for opening day found that either one or two of the traffic decks were installed backwards, authorities said.

"The only responsible party is the builder. We are going to make them answer for this," Public Works Minister Loreto Silva. 

In a statement sent to The Local via email, however, Azvi said that while minor errors in the bridge's construction had been detected, it was not true that the bridge had been built backwards.

"The controversy around the bridge having been built upside down doesn't make any sense as both parts (of the traffic decks) are symmetrical," the company stated.  

Azvi also highlighted a press release from Chile's Public Works Ministry saying there were "no structural problems" with the bridge.

As yet, no new opening date for the bridge has been announced.

Valdivia, 840 kilometers (520 miles) south of sprawling Santiago, is home to about 125,000 people.

A video showing how the Valdivia drawbridge should actually operate. 

January has not been a good month for Spanish developers in Latin America. Spain's infrastructure giant Sacyr — part of a consortium contracted to expand the Panama Canal to accommodate new super container ships — is currently embroiled in a costs row with the Panama Canal Authority.

The two parties are in negotiations over who will pay for cost overruns. 

Spain's Public Works minister flew to Panama for emergency talks in a spat that threatens the future of the critical project

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CONSTRUCTION

Spanish builders made ‘slaves’ by German firm

Wages below the legal minimum, contracts in a language they don't understand and blackmail tactics to keep them quiet: just some of the problems a group of Spanish builders in Holland contracted by a German firm have decided to speak out against.

Spanish builders made 'slaves' by German firm
The builders have just managed to get their hourly wages up from €6 to the legal minimum of €8 an hour. Photo of construction work:Shutterstock

"They want us because we're a cheap workforce," one of the builders who prefers to remain anonymous admits.

Since beginning work with a German firm on road crews in the Netherlands in the spring of 2013, this group of Spanish migrant workers have been bottling up their discontent and frustration.

They've just managed to get their hourly wages up from €6 ($8) to the legal minimum of €8 an hour after the Spanish embassy in Holland informed local workers union FNV Bouw.

But their precarious working and living conditions have still not been fully addressed.

Having signed work contracts written in Dutch and German, languages none of them speak, their awareness of the clauses surrounding extra time, holidays and sick leave is almost non-existent.

"We have to pay for our own work clothes. If we’re ill we don’t get paid," one builder tells Spanish news agency EFE from the tiny bungalows where they’re all housed together.

"Most of them are unaware that they have to sign up to the local town hall to receive social and health benefits," adds Ben Paulides, a local politician who thinks the language barrier is the main factor keeping the Spanish workers in the dark.

The man the builders blame for their poor working conditions is Zeko Rugovac, head of German building firm BS Rugovac Bau Gmbh, the company that brought them over from Spain.

According to the Spanish builders, his exploitative tactics have seen them work more than ten hours a day on the building of a motorway between the Dutch cities of Delft and Schiedam.

"They threaten to send them back to Spain if they speak out," union spokesperson Osman Yildiz told EFE.

Emilio Rincón, a 32-year-old builder from Cádiz who complained, was one of the ones who bore the brunt of "Rugovac's irregularities".

"They told me there was no more work for me and I’m still waiting to be paid my last wages and sick leave," Rincón explained.

But Zeko Rugovac, the Managing Director of BS Rugovac Bau Gmbh told The Local it simply wasn't true Spanish workers with his firm were being paid €6 an hour, or even €8.

He said those workers received between €12 and €13 an hour before tax, and he was willing to provide bank documentation showing this was the case. 

Claims of lower wages from Dutch union FNV Bouw were mere politics, Rugovac said.

"They are afraid of cheap labour coming in from Spain and other European countries," he added. 

Rugovac also said it wasn't true that workers had had to wait for wages. He said the current project in the Netherlands would finish in April and wages for the month would be paid in early May "as is normal in Europe".  

The legal tangle between BS Rugovac Bau Gmbh, the Dutch government body that has ordered the motorway to be built, and A4ALL, which is the group overseeing the motorway's construction, means no one appears willing to take full responsibility for the Spanish workers' precarious situation.

The matter is currently being investigated by Holland's Ministry of Social Affairs.

SEE ALSO: 10,000 jobless Spaniards to be kicked out of Germany

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