BWI on the Tokyo Olympics’ handling of COVID-19 and workers’ rights

The Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI), representing 12 million workers worldwide, adds its voice in urging the organisers of the Tokyo Olympics to seriously reconsider holding the international sporting event as a response to the emergence of the deadly Delta variant and Japan’s declaration of a new COVID-19 state of emergency covering the duration of the Olympics. 

BWI appeals to the Olympic organisers to include in its list of options the possible cancellation and postponement of the event. While BWI acknowledges the efforts of the organisers to enforce health and safety protocols, such as the recruitment of volunteer medical personnel, vaccines and PCR tests for athletes, they are unfortunately not enough to prevent the possible super spread of COVID-19. This has been asserted repeatedly by top Japanese medical associations.  The health and safety risks are simply too high. 

BWI fully understands the importance of holding the Olympics and recognises the hope, unity and strength it symbolises amidst a pandemic. However, we cannot unnecessarily risk the lives of our athletes, workers and the general public even as governments try their best to have their citizens fully vaccinated. The holding of the Tokyo Olympics behind closed doors as “broadcast-only events” or its cancellation and postponement are real courses of action that the Organising Committee must seriously study. 

Furthermore, BWI reiterates its call to the International Olympic Committee to attend to the serious and numerous cases of occupational health and safety violations resulting in accidents and fatalities, dangerous patterns of overwork, inadequate facilities for migrants and women workers, poor or non-existent industrial relations practices and other violations of human rights or indecent conditions as result of the construction of the Tokyo Summer Olympics’ infrastructure. 

As early as 2020, BWI has called the attention of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOGOC), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) and the Japan Sports Council (JSC) on these issues. BWI held up, as a positive model for the Tokyo Olympics, its major advance on occupational health and safety standards in Qatar for the FIFA 2022 World Cup.

However, BWI’s attempts to achieve justice for the aggrieved workers have been consistently rebuffed by these agencies. 

BWI believes that now is an opportune time for the International Olympic Committee to address the major violation of workers’ rights and welfare in the construction of the Tokyo Olympics’ infrastructure. As the Olympic organisers exert all efforts to secure the health and lives of its athletes and spectators, the same vigor should be extended to the protection of workers’ rights and welfare. 

(Photo: Charly Triballeu/ Agence France Presse--Getty Images)