Brazilian workers (L-R) Jose Evaldo Dutra, Valter Almeida, Josivam Alves and Antonio Cardoso (AFP/File, Lunae Parracho)
BRASILIA — At least 141 workers have been fired at the construction site for Brazil's controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the heart of the Amazon following a dispute over working conditions, one of them said Friday.
Jose Antonio Cardoso, a representative for the workers, said the consortium in charge of the $11 billion project had promised to help resolve the dispute but instead announced that 134 workers were being fired "without explanation."
"First they fired 134, then four others, including myself, then three more," he added.
Cardoso said the workers were demanding better pay as well as improved working conditions.
Police then escorted the fired workers to the bus station, where they were driven back to the northeastern state of Maranhao from they had been recruited, he added.
A spokesman for the CCBM consortium in charge of the project said only 120 workers were let go.
Last month more than 400 activists occupied the site of what would be the third biggest dam in the world -- after China's Three Gorges dam and the Itaipu dam on the border of Brazil and Paraguay.
Construction of the Belo Monte dam -- which would produce more than 11,000 megawatts, or about 11 percent of Brazil's current installed capacity -- has been the subject of legal wrangling for decades.
The project also has drawn international criticism, including from Oscar-winning movie director James Cameron of "Avatar" fame, who said rainforest indigenous tribes could turn to violence to block dam construction.
But President Dilma Rousseff's government has insisted the project should be allowed to go ahead, making it the centerpiece of government efforts to boost energy production in the rapidly growing economy.
The project is expected to employ 20,000 people directly in construction, flood an area of 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) along the Xingu river and displace 16,000 persons.
The government had pledged to minimize the environmental and social impact of the dam and asserted that no traditional indigenous land was to be affected.