World Cup stadium labourers not celebrating

2010-01-21 13:51

Phakama James is six months pregnant and has been working as a

cleaner at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium. But as the Soccer World Cup draws

closer and the structure nears completion, she faces an uncertain future.

The 32-year-old mother of two, who lives with her grandmother in

Diepkloof Extension 6, southwest of Johannesburg, was hired last August and paid

R80 for each 11-hour shift. On Tuesday she went to Soccer City stadium to work,

but by the end of the day she was unemployed. She was one of many picked from a

group of job hopefuls at the building site’s entrance and employed without

signing a contract.

“I’ve seen people lose their jobs every day. Today it’s me. We were

told that the contractor had finished his job, so we should leave after

work.

“But what confuses me is that 10 other people were asked to work a

double shift. So how can they be asked to work double shift if our contractor’s

job is finished?”

James is one of the many workers who have fallen through the cracks

of what labour unions say is poor employment planning in stadium construction

for the World Cup.

National Union of Mineworkers’ spokesman Lesiba Seshoka felt the

construction companies were profiting at the expense of their workers.

“The people who’ve made a lot of money are big construction

companies. Workers have not been able to get anything out of this.

“It’s painful, 70% of construction workers are on limited

contracts. We’ve done our best to talk to companies to place them in other

public sector contracts.”

Building and Wood Workers’ International’s (BWI) co-ordinator,

Eddie Cottle, said the government, as the funder of the construction of

stadiums, had failed to use the project to create meaningful employment.

The BWI is an international federation of 318 trade unions in 130

countries that campaigns for fair working conditions.

“In total, 22 000 jobs were created in the building of stadia.

Noting the figures of main contractors, their core staff constitute the minority

of workers.”

He said the government was in a position to set up an employment

strategy to ensure that decent and sustainable jobs were created, but said this

was not done.

“It’s worrisome that there was no employment strategy. There was a

stadium building strategy,” Cottle said.

Qualified bricklayer Mpho Muvhoni, 28, is one of the more fortunate

Soccer City (FNB Stadium at Crown Mines, near Diepkloof) workers, as he is

employed on a contract.

However, seeing his colleagues lose their jobs on a daily basis has

left him doubting the security of his job.

“They told us that we’d go to another project in Sandton when our

job is finished here, but then again no one really knows whether this will

happen.

“People get fired every day. If they’ve worked three days they give

them their three days’ wages and then order them to leave the stadium

immediately,” he said.

According to Cottle, of the 2 200 workers at Soccer City only 100

were trained and offered permanent jobs with the main contractor.

“Most of the workers employed in the building of stadia are

vulnerable workers.”

BWI, union federation Cosatu and other trade unions had made an

agreement with Fifa and the government that all workers employed for 18 months

should be permanently placed with the main contractors. They (contractors) were

however dragging their feet, Cottle claimed.

“We had a deal with Fifa that companies would comply with

government regulations. Two workers lost their lives in these stadia because of

non-compliance by other contractors.”

The department of public works and Fifa’s Local Organising

Committee had not responded to queries by the time of going to press.

Spokesman for construction company Murray and Roberts, Eduard

Jordim, said it was difficult to give workers permanent jobs.

His company, which was awarded the tender to build Green Point

Stadium in Cape Town, hired 2 300 people at the peak of the stadium’s

construction.

“In construction, it’s different because most of the workers you

will not have until you have the contract. You hire on a daily basis,” he

said.

Murray and Roberts, he said, had set up a centre inside the stadium

during construction at which 1 200 workers were trained.

“We have another project in Limpopo. If we don’t have enough space

for the people we’ve trained, we find them other opportunities.”

Murray and Roberts currently employs 33 000 permanent staff in

various projects across the country.

Despite the layoffs, Soccer City’s workers are proud of having been

involved in building the 2010 landmarks.

Solly Ndlovu, 25, from Kliptown, south of Johannesburg, started

working on the stadium in 2008.

“My hands built what you see today. I’ve taken many photos to show

my family and my friends that I was part of the people who built this. I feel

very proud.”

He, like hundreds of others, waits for the news that will put him

back in the ranks of the unemployed.

“If they tell me to go, what can I say? There’s nothing I can

do.”

Phakama James, meanwhile, was sanguine about her future and

believed everything happened for a reason.

“I knew that I was working on a three-month contract, but I think

they should have warned me that I would lose my job. But I trust God will make a

plan for me and I’ll find another job.”

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