Global union fears for workers in 2010 preparations

Mathieu Foulkes

Mathieu Foulkes

Organisers of the 2010 football World Cup should not exploit the high levels of unemployment in South Africa and build stadiums on the cheap, the biggest international union federation said yesterday.

Ten stadiums in nine different cities are due to either be built or substantially revamped at least a year ahead of the tournament. It will be the first time the world's biggest sporting event has been held in Africa.

In a country which has hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant workers and an unemployment rate estimated at above 40 percent, cheap labour is not in short supply.

Authorities in South Africa have repeatedly pledged to meet deadlines set by football's world governing body Fifa whose president, Sepp Blatter, has voiced concerns that the picks and shovels have yet to swing into action.

But leaders of the International Trade Union Confederation (Ituc), currently in Kenya for the yearly World Social Forum, want the whistle blown on contractors who cut corners to get the job done on time and within budget.

"Football is the world's favourite game. There are millions of people who watch an event such as the World Cup but what the people have no idea about is how the stadiums are constructed," said Andrea Maksimovic, international coordinator of a body which groups 306 unions globally.

"South Africa expects the World Cup will give work to 300000 people, so it's an important asset," Maksimovic said.

Ituc says that football fans throughout the world need to be prepared to put pressure on all parties to ensure that workers are not taken advantage of.

"At the moment we want to put pressure on Fifa and the South African government via the media, to make supporters throughout the world aware of the issue," said Ituc spokesman Mathieu Debroux.

"However if their concerns went unheeded, other means of pressure such as mass petitions would be rolled out."

As well as ensuring that the construction workers are paid a decent wage, Ituc wants assurances about on-site safety conditions as well as provision to be made for anyone injured in a work accident.

Maksimovic said the federation was hoping for a more cooperative relationship with the South African government than it received ahead of the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

"The IOC [International Olympic Committee] didn't play the game," she said.

The mayor of Johannesburg said last week that renovations to the FNB stadium, which will host the opening ceremony and final, should start next month. - Additional reporting by Sapa