Global union still concerned over Tokyo 2020 working conditions

18 September 2019 03:37

  Workers building venues and facilities for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics are still concerned for their safety as construction delays, a tight schedule and soaring temperatures are reinforcing dangerous work practices, according to the Geneva-based global union federation, Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI). 

“With deadlines looming, a severe worker shortage and high temperatures, we are concerned that the workers that build Tokyo 2020 are still being put in danger,” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson.

"These problems are compounded by insufficient facilities – including elevators, toilets and parking – making workers’ lives unnecessarily onerous and uncomfortable.”

The information comes from interviews with workers undertaken in August and September, and follow the May 2019 release of a report by the BWI and Japanese construction union Zenkensoren into working conditions on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic construction projects. The workers also confirmed that the issues raised by BWI in May has not been addressed to date.

The workers’ testimonies follow the 8 August fatality of a construction worker engaged on the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition centre, which will be used for the Tokyo 2020 media centre. The worker died from heat stroke, as a record-breaking heat wave affected large parts of Japan.

These health risks are also being exacerbated by the growing presence of migrant workers onsite, which are reported to be as high as one in five workers on some sites.  In Japan migrant workers are categorized as “trainees.” “While morning briefings are translated to migrant workers, they do not receive the same newcomer briefings and posters describing safety practices and other working conditions are only in Japanese,” said Yuson.

“Japan’s severe construction worker shortage and recent labour law reforms make it clear that Japan will be welcoming more migrant workers; however, they should enjoy the same standards of safety as national workers through special provisions to ensure all materials are available in their home language.”

The shortage of elevators and lifts on site mean that male workers often have to climb or descend four or five flights each time they want to use the toilet, while female workers will have to descend as many as fourteen floors. In the context of severe heat and worker overtime, this could become a dangerous combination. In addition, workers noted that the monthly cost of parking could be as much as one or two days’ wages.

Workers also complained about severe controls on information. “While workers are technically able to report issues through the respective grievance mechanisms, they are prohibited from taking photographs on key construction sites, making it hard to elaborate complaints,” stated Yuson.

“This combined with the ‘culture of fear’ that we mentioned in our previous report, leaves workers feeling exhausted and helpless. Is this the legacy that Tokyo 2020 plans to leave?”       

The BWI will be releasing a full follow-up report at the end of September 2019, covering this issue and others.