stadiums a labour of love

South Africa has experienced a spate of labour strikes on sites for the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 Fifa World Cup in the past few months due to wage disputes.

South Africa has experienced a spate of labour strikes on sites for the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 Fifa World Cup in the past few months due to wage disputes.

The strikes are cause for concern to many South Africans, some of whom question the commitment of the construction workers.

But the National Union of Mineworkers has pledged its unwavering support to the delivery of world-class facilities for the two competitions. It puts the blame for the strikes on the construction companies upgrading existing facilities or building new ones.

Sowetan's Ramatsiyi Moholoa spoke to Frans Baleni, who joined Soccer City workers to celebrate one million accident-free hours on site on Friday.

RM: We have seen workers going on strike at various sites, with Peter Mokaba Sports Complex in Polokwane and Mbombela in Nelspruit being the worst affected. What are the real issues behind the strikes?

FB: First of all, let me state that as NUM we are fully committed to delivering world-class stadiums in South Africa for the World Cup.

The biggest challenge that we are facing is the failure by management of construction companies of various stadiums to stick to the agreements reached with us. They don't comply with the agreements. There are many promises made to the workers, which are not implemented at the end of the day.

The problem that we have is that management does not even talk to us. They send our members from pillar to post when they are confronted.

For example, workers are informed that they will get a certain bonus at the end of a specific month for a job well done.

When that time approaches, management changes the tune. We feel it is not fair at all. Workers deserve better pay and that's what we are fighting for.

RM: So what are you doing to ensure that the process is smooth. Otherwise we may end with a situation where some of the stadiums will be withdrawn for lack of progress like the Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth for the Confederations Cup?

FB: One of the problems that we are faced with now is that the owners of the construction companies are using labour brokers to negotiate on their behalf.

It creates serious problems for us, we have always wanted to deal directly with them so that decisions can be made on the spot after lengthy discussions.

There is no doubt that we need uniformity in terms of the packages offered by the different construction companies working on the World Cup projects.

We are engaged with the managing directors of all the companies involved in the construction of stadiums to negotiate the same packages for our members.

We have established a forum of the union and management that is facilitated by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

Forum members, who are the union and construction leadership, have already met twice and we have a draft document to guide us in the whole process.

The aim of the forum is to design packages of the six World Cup projects and make sure we are able to eliminate all the conflicts much earlier

For example, a builder working at Mbombela Stadium must be paid the same rate as the one on site at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

Right now we have different rates that we feel should be reviewed. Once those issues are addressed, there won't be a problem as long as management honours them.

RM: Which stadiums are giving you guys problems in terms of not honouring some of the agreements reached with the management?

FB: Peter Mokaba, Mbombela and Nelson Mandela Bay. But we are continuing to engage them on a regular basis so that we sing from the same hymn book.

RM: We have just been informed that one worker has died on site at Peter Mokaba Sport Complex. What are you doing to address the issue of safety with management?

FB: Naturally, we are saddened by the death of a worker in Polokwane. Our condolences to the family, friends and relatives.

We are investigating the matter, but from our side safety is not negotiable. Management has to ensure that all the people on site are always protected.

RM: Your message to your members and workers in general on sites for the Confederation Cup and World Cup?

FB: The World Cup is a unique and historic event and they have to be proud that they were among the first people to lay a solid foundation for it.

We must ensure that they get decent salaries. We urge all our members to fight against discrimination and racism and expose it at work places. They must expose companies who still have separate toilets for blacks and whites, like the one I recently visited in Limpopo.