Uzbekistan has picked up the pace of construction at a $3.6 billion gas-to-liquids project in Uzbekistan following the evacuation of over 9000 builders earlier year to halt the spread of Covid-19.

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State owned operator Uzbekneftegaz said the development in the Kashkadarya region has reached almost 91% completion, with construction work completion at over 76%.

Construction of the GTL plant barely progressed during the summer months, but 12,000 builders were brought back to the site in September at the behest of authorities in the capital, Tashkent

The project is believed to be personally overseen by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

About 1800 people on site are expatriates who are managing the construction process and local workforce.

The restart of construction has, however, reportedly posed challenges for a project’s contractor, Enter Engineering, with builders complaining about delays in salary payments and the serving of meals.

Workers have also expressed dissatisfaction with their long shifts of between 40 and 45 days, insisting that they should be reduced to the standard 22 days.

Last week, hundreds of workers staged a protest, storming on-site offices of contractors and crushing office equipment and furniture.

Authorities reacted to the protest by sending Energy Minister Alisher Sultanov, Kashkadarya regional Governor Zoiyr Mirzayev and other top government officials to the construction site to calm tensions.

The Energy Ministry said that authorities have agreed to shorten shift durations, adding, however, that builders will still have to present a valid Covid-19 test on arrival and pass further on-site screening.

According to industry observers, Uzbekistan's economy has experienced a sharp downturn this year as it was hit by Covid-19 restrictions and curtailment of trade with its two major partners, China and Russia.

Independent operators have complained about delays in payments from Uzbekneftegaz and other state-owned consumers for supplied gas. Interruptions have also been seen in supplies of fuels and other petroleum products.

Commissioning of the GTL plant — which is due to produce up to 1.5 million tonnes (12 million barrels) per annum — had been scheduled to begin in the third quarter of this year.

Uzbekneftegaz has not provided any new deadline of when it expects the project to come on line.