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“There is blood in the snows of Sochi and the impunity of workers’ exploitation has to stop. The most expensive Games in history is also the deadliest for building workers.” This is the strong criticism the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) levelled to both the Russian government and the International Olympics Committee (IOC) as the 2014 Winter Olympics opens this Friday.
Trade unionists will picket the Russian Embassy in Geneva to denounce the widespread and systematic exploitation of construction workers in Sochi and the possibility of repetitions in the 11 host cities of the FIFA World Cup 2018.
Ambet Yuson, BWI General Secretary said, “We have estimated that more than 60 workers have died in Sochi. Official statistics from 2009 to 2011 showed 71 accidents and half of them fatal. Our onsite check revealed 20 deaths in 2010 alone while in 2012 25 lost their lives. As late as 20 November 2013, 1 worker died and 2 were injured in the main stadium Fisht. These are tragic costs of human lives and this impunity of workers’ exploitation in mega-sports events has to stop.”
Unpaid wages, unsafe working conditions, 12-hour or more shifts, poor housing, and trafficked migrant workers compose the collage of workers exploitation that will be the legacy of this Olympics. On 17th of October 2013, a Russian construction worker named Roman Kuznetsov sewed his mouth in protest against the non-payment of his wages in Sochi.
Last November, the BWI and its Russian and Serbian affiliates assisted in the return of 27 Serbian migrant workers who were trafficked and practically left by themselves without wages, accommodation, and documentation. This case is only one of the many instances of trafficking of workers from Central Asia, South East Europe and Turkey. As of now, 150 workers have been repatriated through union efforts.
The BWI criticised the Russian government for blatantly violating international labour standards and conventions and called on the IOC to act on the modern slavery that is happening in the build up to its events.
Yuson further stated “this serial exploitation in the Olympics and World Cups has no place in these times. We call on the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation to investigate these bad practices and to hold governments and global sports associations as well as their contractors-suppliers accountable for their actions.”
The Global Union noted that the EURO 2012 of the UEFA was held at the expense of 16 Ukrainian and 4 Polish workers’ lives. For the FIFA World Cups, 7 lives were lost in Brazil, another 5 in the cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kazan and recently the Guardian newspaper reported that 185 Nepalese migrant workers died in Qatar in 2013. It decried the irony of great security and safety for athletes and spectators while workers who toiled to build the venues continue to die in avoidable circumstances. BWI asserted the “labour is part of the team and should not be rewarded with deaths, injuries or slave-like employment.”
As Russia prepares to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, trade unions have also expressed their concerns about the repetition of the exploitative practices.
For BWI the picture indeed doesn’t look promising.
Russia stealthily passed in June 2013 its FIFA Law called “On the Preparation and Staging of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russian Federation and the Amendment of Certain Russian Federal Legislative Acts № 108-FZ”. This new law cancels numerous labour standards for those working in preparation of the World Cup in 2018. It also gives employers free rein on how to employ migrant workers without consideration of labour standards.
BWI has publicised the assessment of the FIFA Law, which was co-authored by the president of its Ukrainian affiliate, Construction and Building Material Industry Workers Union of Ukraine, Vasyl Andreyev. He urged the global trade union movement to act on this pressing issue, as this is a grave threat to labour rights and trade unions. Mr. Andreyev noted, “Without labour protection the mega sports events are becoming a race to the bottom.”
Alliance of trade unions are calling for the immediate repeal of the FIFA Law FZ № 108 which effectively deny labour rights and standards to workers involved in the preparations of the championships and are urging the setting of guarantees for workers protection in all the work sites.
As the next edition of the Winter Olympics goes to South Korea in 2018, the BWI together with its South Korean affiliate, the Korean Federation of Construction Industries Trade Union are holding preparatory work for a decent work campaign, including organising workers at the various construction sites, to ensure that the horrors of Sochi will not be repeated in their country.
Trade unionists led by BWI will launch a global campaign on the workers’ rights in the preparation of World Cup 2018 through a picket at the Russian Embassy in Geneva this coming 06 of February 2014 at 14:00.
Photo Opportunity on 6 February: Trade unionists in their winter sports attire will pose with “medals of shame” identifying the following issues: deaths, injuries, exploitative wages and accidents.
FIFA Law Reference:
Sochi Protest and Accidents References: