BWI Report demands active trade union role in Tokyo 2020 Olympics

15 May 2019 10:02


15 May: The BWI and Japanese construction union Zenkensoren has today released a study into the labour conditions of workers building the Tokyo 2020 facilities, saying that more must be done to protect workers’ safety and ensure decent work. The report, entitled The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, is based on interviews with workers and documents on how ongoing overwork and poor access to justice are creating a culture of fear for Tokyo 2020 construction workers.

“The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics was Japan’s opportunity to address some of the long-running gaps within the construction industry in Japan; however, these problems have just got worse,” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. “Wages remain low, dangerous overwork is common, and workers have limited access to recourse to address their issues.”

The report was sent yesterday to the Tokyo Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) and the Japanese Sports Council (JSC), the organisations responsible for the construction of Tokyo 2020 sporting facilities, and is based on interviews with workers on the New National Stadium and Olympic Village.

According to the report, the Japanese construction sector is currently facing an acute labour shortage, where there are currently 4.3 positions available for every construction worker due to the failure of the industry to create decent jobs. This has put immense pressure on construction workers, and the response has been a crisis of dangerous overwork across the industry that leads to an unsafe work environment.

“Workers told us about ongoing patterns of dangerous and illegal overwork on Tokyo 2020 sites, even though one worker has already died as a result of karoshi, death by overwork,” Yuson said. “New rules restricting overwork have included a deliberate carve-out for the construction industry, despite it having one of the highest rates of workplace fatalities and injuries. Two workers have already died for this Olympics, unless TOCOG, TMG and JSC step in to restrict dangerous overwork we may see more.”

“We also spoke to workers that had to buy their own safety equipment,” said Yuson, noting that bogus self-employment was allowing employers to escape from their fundamental obligations to guarantee worker safety. He continued, “Rampant subcontracting makes it more difficult to guarantee a safe and healthy work-site, wages remain low, and there is consistent job instability---is this the legacy that Tokyo 2020 organizers wants to leave after the Games?”

In addition, the report notes the ongoing problems that exist with the grievance mechanism systems established to address violations of the Sustainable Sourcing Code. “There are three different mechanisms, all of which are hard to find, only one of which is available in any language but Japanese, to cover complaints for the whole supply chain. It is ironic, there is one Olympics but three complaint mechanisms.”

The report even notes that when a union filed a complaint on behalf of a member it was rejected because the worker had not filed it himself. “The refusal to allow a union to represent its member in the JSC Grievance Mechanism is representative of the entire failing of the Tokyo 2020 construction effort to date. From 2016 we have outreached to Tokyo 2020 to ensure that trade unions can play an active and constructive role in partnership with the organizers to ensure that workers’ rights are protected. The

2020 Summer Olympics is just over a year away. We strongly urge TOCOG, TMG and JSC to begin discussions with trade unions to address the current problems before it’s too late,” stated Yuson.