28th July 2020

Payment funds & joint liability could help protect MSE workers

Organisers of Mega Sports Events (MSEs) should establish workers payment funds, capacity building bodies, and grievance resolution mechanisms to guard against workers being exploited in the rush to build facilities on time and within budget. The recommendations are part of ‘Changing the Game: A critical analysis of labour exploitation in Mega Sport Event infrastructure projects’, a new Report (PDF below, click here if it doesn’t appear) released by Engineers Against Poverty (EAP) to coincide with what would have been the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The Report found that statements from international sporting federations proclaiming that the rights of MSE workers will be upheld are often meaningless. This is because international federations cannot be held to account if such commitments are not met, because courts do not have jurisdiction.

‘A decision granted by a Swiss court in 2017 illustrates this’, explains the Report. ‘BWI [Building and Wood Workers International] and other trade associations filed a lawsuit seeking to hold FIFA accountable for Qatar’s failure to respect human rights. One of the claims was for FIFA to ensure the Qatari authorities introduce the necessary changes to protect international labour rights. Regardless of the merits of the case, the court rejected the claim on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction. 

‘For the court, legal obligations need to be enforceable and sufficiently specified to be accepted and FIFA’s obligations did not qualify as such. The risk identified in the decision is that international labour obligations – such as FIFA’s obligation to preserve “all internationally recognised human rights and strive to promote the protection of these rights” as recognised in the current Statute[s] – may become only symbolic with no real effect or “bite” unless specified in more detail.’

The Report therefore recommends that workers payment funds are established for MSEs, to ensure that workers are compensated if subcontractors fail to pay wages on tim. It cites evidence that construction workers on the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup were paid between US$377 and $510 per month; some migrant workers for the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup faced wage delays of up to five months; and US$8.3 in unpaid wages owed to construction workers in connection with the Sochi 2014 Olympics.

The Report also found that booms in constrain jobs promised by organisers of MSEs often do not happen, because training plans are not put in place. As such, capacity building plans should be put in place to train workers so that they can maintain employment after MSE projects finish. 

‘In South Africa, 452,000 jobs were said to have been created for the World Cup’, it explains. ‘What the statistics do not clarify is that most of these jobs were informal and paid below the minimum wage. Jobs in the South Africa World Cup also perpetuated the discriminatory pattern of the local construction industry, employing unskilled workers on a short-term basis and without legal ties to the main contractor. After the event, around 110,000 construction workers could not find another job, contributing to South Africa’s many cycles of “jobless growth”.’ 

Shockingly, of all the MSEs the Report examined, only London 2012 reported no worker fatalities. Trade Unions estimate that by the time the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup takes place, 7,000 workers will have died. ‘Workers on the Khalifa Stadium Project, built to host the World Cup in Qatar, earned US $ 1.50 an hour for 13 hour shifts, six days a week, under Qatar’s intense heat’, reads the Report.

‘Inhumane’ conditions were also reported for workers on sites related to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. ‘In the Olympic Village, for example, workers reported working 28 days in a row in one month due to tight deadlines’, reads the Report. A  23 year old who worked 190 hours of overtime on the Tokyo National Stadium committed suicide.

In order to deal with any such incidents, the Report recommends the development of a grievance system specific to MSEs, combined with a international joint liability system. It outlines that this may help to avoid a situation where nobody can be held liable for such occurrences. 

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