Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tower Hill to Mayfair, the Message is the Same

 WORKERS from London's Crossrail project where Rene Tkacik was killed last year were among those who gathered by the statue of the Unknown Building Worker on Tower Hill on Tuesday morning, April 28, for International Workers Memorial Day.

Rene Tkacik was buried under a falling section of 'shotcrete' in a tunnel at Holborn.  Speakers who had attended the inquest on Rene at St.Pancras Coroners Court on February 23 said fellow workers who had escaped near misses were not allowed to give evidence, nor were those reporting that contractors on Crossrail had sacked workers who complained of inadequate safety.

Phil Lewis from London Hazard Centre read a letter from Families Against Corporate Killing, remembering young workers killed while still in their teens. Peter Farrel from the Construction Safety Campaign said fines for safety breaches were nothing to building companies making huge profits. He also called for release of government documents about the jailing of the 1972 Shrewsbury building pickets.

Shadow Employment Minister Stephen Timms pledged that if Labour was returned in the election on May 7 it would reverse Tory cuts in HSE inspections, and would order a public enquiry into blacklisting of building workers. Gail Cartmail from Unite the Union urged workers to defend the National Health Service, and to oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which would undermine both services and safety regulations.

UCATT building union members laid a wreath under the statue, apprentices released a flight of black baloons for every building worker killed in the past year, and the crowd held a minute's silence in tribute.

  In the afternoon the action moved to posh Mayfair, and specifically South Audley Street, where the State of Qatar has its embassy. Migrant workers, mainly from south Asia, are hard at work in the blazing heat of this Gulf state on the stadium and infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.  Many of these workers are from Nepal. If present working conditions and rate of fatalities continue it looks as though the World Cup preparations will have killed as many people as the Nepalese earthquake.

On February 19, 2014 The Guardian's chief sports correspondent, Owen Gibson, reported the Indian embassy in Doha had confirmed 502 Indian migrant workers died since January 2012. The International Trade Union Confederation also called to the deaths and the plight of migrant workers in Qatar, many of whom have been employed under a system called Kafala, which requires the workers to pay sponsors to come to Qatar.  Once there they find themselves in debt bondage, exploited and living in poor conditions, and unable to leave a job.

Migrant workers brought into Qatar for the building boom and other work are now the bulk of the country's population.

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, told a European Parliament hearing: "Qatar is a slave state for 1.4 million migrant workers. It doesn't have to be that way. Qatar chooses to build its modern nation with the labor of migrant workers and deliberately chooses to maintain a system that treats these workers as less than human. . . . If you continue to run the World Cup in a state which enslaves workers, it shames the game. The government must end the system of kafala if the World Cup is to be played in Qatar in 2022."

"Companies, governments, and FIFA must not be complicit in treating workers as slaves in Qatar and the escalating death toll. Our conservative estimate, based on data on deaths of Nepalese and Indian workers alone, is that more than 4,000 workers will die before a ball is kicked in 2022," Burrow said.

A Qatar employment ministry's statement said it had increased the number of trained labor inspectors by 25 percent, and was hiring additional inspectors. It also promised to reform the kafala system.

But at the end of the year a report said:
"Nepalese migrants building the infrastructure to host the 2022 World Cup have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014 – despite Qatar’s promises to improve their working conditions, the Guardian has learned. The figure excludes deaths of Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers, raising fears that if fatalities among all migrants were taken into account the toll would almost certainly be more than one a day. Qatar had vowed to reform the industry after the Guardian exposed the desperate plight of many of its migrant workers last year. The government commissioned an investigation by the international law firm DLA Piper and promised to implement recommendations listed in a report published in May.

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