Construction work in the Winter Olympics resort of Sochi, Russia.
Sochi Winter Olympics: rights suspended, 60 workers dead
Amid all the entirely justified outrage about the Russian authorities’ atrocious approach to LGBT rights, one element of the Sochi Winter Olympics which were opened last night is its appalling health and safety record.
Unions in the construction industry claim that over 60 workers have died building the facilities, a record that should shame the organisers long after the sporting records set this fortnight are forgotten. Compare Sochi’s record with the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games, where there were no fatalities, for the first time in a modern Olympics.
What’s the difference? In London, the organisers worked hand in glove with unions. In Sochi, they got workers’ rights suspended. At least 60 people are dead as a result.
The London Games started off with a memorandum of understanding between unions and the organisers, brokered by the TUC. Unions were fully recognised, and had offices at the major construction site in East London. That didn’t mean that everything was sweetness and light – life’s not like that – but it did mean a health and safety culture predominated, with the accident rate overall far lower than on the average construction project in the UK, and no fatalities. London 2012 was the safest and most ethical Games ever.
Contrast that with Sochi, where the Russian government suspended labour standards and where fatalities and injuries – on a much smaller construction project than London – have rocketed.
Global unions organised a protest outside the Russian Embassy in Geneva on Thursday, worried that the suspension of labour rights for Sochi has been repeated for the 2017 Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup and that more fatalities will result. And Korean unions are watching with concern as union rights are abrogated in the run up to the next Winter Olympics in 2018.
Building and Woodworkers International leader Ambet Yuson said:
“This serial exploitation in the Olympics and World Cups has no place in these times. We call on the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation to investigate these bad practices and to hold governments and global sports associations as well as their contractors-suppliers accountable for their actions.”
The legacy of the 2012 London Games has been hotly debated as Team GB’s model of diversity has given way to Government Go Home vans. But the safety and supply chain record holds a clear lesson. Global sporting events can be safe and ethical, and it’s no accident when people are killed building the games: it’s murder!