Sunday, April 20, 2014

World Cup of Blood Overfloweth

 Why Construction Safety Campaigners are going to an Embassy

MONDAY, April 28, will be International Workers Memorial Day, with various events planned in Britain and around the world. Here in London, as in previous years, these will include a rally by the statue at Tower Hill of the Unknown Building Worker. But before that, the Construction Safety Campaign and the London Hazards Centre have invited supporters to join them at 1 South Audley Street, in the West End, from 8.30am, where they intend to hand in a letter at the Qatar embassy.

Many Brits and others have gone out after good money working in oil-rich Gulf states like Qatar, but the embassy protest concerns the hard lives and numerous deaths among the larger number of workers, often from poorer Asian countries, employed in construction projects linked with the 2022 FIFA world cup.

A flyer from the International Workers memorial day organising committee says: "Football world wide is a game largely enjoyed by billions of workers. It must not be stained with the blood of workers".

This isn't the first time the Construction Safety Campaign has turned its attention to a sports-related construction. Ten years ago, on April 28 2004, the London campaigners switched from their more usual routes south of the Thames to march on Wembley stadium, where carpenter Patsy O'Sullivan had been killed when a platform fell 300ft. on to him as he was working below.

After representations by the CSC, the building unions, and Brent trades union council, a plaque was put up at the stadium to commemorate Pat O'Sullivan.

But it will take more than one plaque to remember those who have died so far in Qatar, or the further deaths that are predicted.

More than 500 Indian migrant workers have died in Qatar since January 2012, revealing for the first time the shocking scale of death toll among those building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.
Official figures confirmed by the Indian embassy in Doha reveal that 237 Indians working in Qatar died in 2012 and 241 in 2013. A further 24 Indians have died in January 2014.
These come after the Guardian revealed last month that 185 Nepalese workers had died in Qatar in 2013, taking the total from that country to at least 382 over two years.
Human rights groups and politicians said the figures meant Fifa could not "look the other way", and should be leading demands for Qatar to improve conditions for the estimated 1.2 million migrant workers fuelling a huge construction boom.

A comprehensive report released earlier this week by the International Trade Union Confederation estimated that 4,000 immigrant workers could die before the 2022 Qatar World Cup – a result of living in squalor, drinking salty water, working excessive hours in extreme heat and living in cramped conditions.

The report begins “Qatar is a country without a conscience” and only gets more damning from there.

“Fundamental rights and freedoms do not exist for workers in Qatar whether for poor migrant workers or highly paid professional expatriates. Foreign workers are enslaved – owned by employers who own the power of recruitment, total control over wages and conditions of employment, the authority to issue ID cards (not having an ID card can lead to prison) and the ability to refuse a change of employment or an exit visa to leave the country. This is known as the Kafala system.”

The reality is that the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup are being built on the backs of the 1.4 million immigrant workers living and working in Qatar but are being under-compensated and subjected to unfair labor practices. Many of these workers are Nepalese and Indian.

The report goes into specific details about the conditions, allowing workers a first-person account of the situation.

One 26-year-old worker from the Philippines wrote: “After being in Qatar for five years, I would like to take my annual leave and go back home for a short visit. The company practice is that the manager demands a deposit payment of $275 -- an amount which I cannot afford in addition to the price of the ticket.” The worker also notes his living conditions, which include “eight people to one bedroom, sixteen people share a bathroom and thirty five people share a kitchen.”

The statistics cited say that 191 Nepalese workers and 218 Indian nationals died in 2013 alone, and the potential for 4,000 pre-World Cup deaths is based on mortality trend data from the Nepal and Indian embassies.

In response, Qatar has created two separate charters – the Qatar Foundation Mandatory Standards and the Committee Workers' Welfare Standards – but both appear to be ineffective. First of all, the QF appears to allow workers to merely raise objections to conditions as opposed to enact substantial changes, but more importantly, it's self-policed by the contractors themselves. The report notes it periodically conducts self-audits, which consistently fail to yield anything of merit.

The second charter is even more of a joke. Workers meet with management once a month (at an accommodation site, not the actual work site) and are barred from raising topics such as wages, hours of work or potential to switch companies.

FIFA is aware of the issues and has called on Qatar to amend its practices, but it seems that there's little fear of re-locating the World Cup (despite the very bright idea to host a World Cup in Qatar's searing climate). What's more, FIFA is currently under federal investigation because its former VP allegedly accepted bribe money from a firm linked to Qatar's bid.

If that's still not enough to make one question the entire bureaucratic process for soccer's governing body, a Reuters report on Tuesday said that FIFA considered halting an investigation being conducted by an independent ethics committee into the alleged bribes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Thankfully, they thought better of intervening and the investigation is still on-going.

Given all the recent revelations, it's no wonder MLS commissioner Don Garber recently quipped that the Qatar World Cup could become a "monumental disaster." At this point, that seems all too likely.

The Daily Mirror too has reported on Qatar:

The IMF has expressed concern that the row over workers' conditions and deaths in construction could effect Qatar's whole economic development. Roads and hotels along with other infrastructure projects are linked with the world cup.

Qatar is not the only Gulf state where labour conditions and prestigious construction projects have aroused attention. There is an international campaign, involving artists, concerned about the rights and conditions of building workers on the new Guggenheim museum an gallery being built in Abu Dhabi.

But Qatar could be special both for the horrific scale of the casualties and the possibilities which international interest in the World Cup provide for publicity and leverage.

And in London ...MEANWHILE the Construction Safety Campaign and London Hazards Centre are not taking their eyes off what's happening in this country. While people may be patting themselves on the back over the lack of fatalities in the Olympic project - itself owing much to union organisation and public campaigning, - the construction industry continues to take its toll, not least in London, both of workers on the sites and members of the public.

In November it was Richard Laco, killed under a fall of steel and concrete from a collapsing stairwell on the Francis Crick site at St.Pancras, Laing O'Rourke main contractors.

In February, Julie Sillitoe, a cab driver, was killed when falling concrete fell on top of her car in Holborn.

On March 2, Kevin Campbell was killed by a falling object at the Dockland Light Railway site in Stratford, E15.  As with the Crick site it was reported that the employers would not allow union safety representatives on site. The contractor, Clancy, would not comment.

A few days later a concrete sprayer employed on the Crossrail project died after a concrete slab fell on him in a tunnel at  Holborn.

On April 14, Dainius Rupsys, originally from Lithuania, was killed when part of a building collapsed on him while he was working, in Grosvenor Square. A mini-mechanical digger being used on the second floor of the former US navy premises fell through the ceiling.  The Construction Safety Campaign called a vigil outside the McGee site, and UCATT has called for an investigation.

With cuts in already inadequate HSE inspections, and contractors tempted to cut corners by the economic situation as well as David Cameron's assault on what he calls "the health and safety culture", the need for union-backed safety campaigning is as clear as ever.  So is the link which union activists point to between injuries and deaths on sites and the employers use of the blacklist against safety reps and anyone else who shows too much interest in working conditions and safety.

Incidentally, remembering the saying "Cuts can Kill", among the lives that have been saved by campaigners is that of the London Hazards Centre. Its demise had seemed possible after local authorities withdrew funding, but thanks to unions and other supporters stepping into the breach, its valuable work continues.

                                      International Workers Memorial  Day

Thursday April 28

Assemble at Qatar Embassy, 1 South Audley Street, W1K 1NB
(nearest tubes Hyde Park, Green Park).
                                     8.30am to 9am. Letter to be handed in 9.15am

Rally and Memorial by the Statue of the Unknown Building Worker, Tower Hill, EC3, 10.30am

Speakers include:  Steve Murphy (UCATT), Gail Cartmel (Unite), Tony O'Brien (CSC), and someone from London Hazards Centre.

Construction Safety Campaign:
London Hazards Centre:

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At 12:28 PM, Anonymous London John said...

"Thursday April 28"???


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