International labor organization criticizes 2020 Olympics working conditions

Those working on the National Stadium reported working 26 days consecutively. (File/Reuters)
Updated 17 May 2019

International labor organization criticizes 2020 Olympics working conditions

  • The report says they are dealing with dangerous conditions, long working hours and an inadequate complaint system
  • The Summer Games begin on July 24, 2020

TOKYO: Construction workers are living in a ‘culture of fear’ and work for long hours in perilous conditions building Tokyo 2020 Olympic venues, according to a report from a leading international labor organization.
The Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) report, which is based on the organization’s interviews with workers, says they are dealing with dangerous conditions, long working hours and an inadequate complaint system.
BWI also noted two construction workers had died in connection with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics was Japan’s opportunity to address some of the long-running gaps within the construction industry in Japan; however, these problems have just got worse,” BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson said in the report.
In 2017, the parents of a 23-year-old builder at the National Stadium petitioned the government to recognize his suicide as “karoshi” — or death by overwork, with media saying he worked 200 hours of overtime a month before his death.
A labor standards office eventually recognized his death as work-related.
The BWI report, released to the public Wednesday, says Japan’s acute labor shortage has put immense pressure on construction workers.
Builders at the Olympic and Paralympic athlete village reported working 28 days in a row; those working on the National Stadium reported working 26 days consecutively, the report said.
The report was submitted to Tokyo 2020, which is organizing the Games; the Tokyo Metropolitan Government; and the Japan Sports Council, which manages the National Stadium, on Tuesday.
“The JSC has been calling for efforts on the construction company to ensure the safety and health of workers and receiving reports regularly,” a JSC spokesman said via email on Friday. “However, as of today, we have not been able to identify cases written in the BWI report or other violations of law.”
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government acknowledged on Friday that it had received the report, but did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Responsibility
Eight new venues are being built for the Games alongside older renovated venues in Tokyo.
The JSC manages the construction of the National Stadium, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is responsible for the remaining new venues.
Tokyo 2020 organizers are responsible for the temporary gymnastics venue, which is not mentioned in the report.
The organizing committee noted that it is not the “commissioning party” for any of the other projects.
“The Tokyo Organizing Committee... is now reviewing the contents of the report and will cooperate with related stakeholders to look into the alleged issue,” Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said in an email to Reuters.
Construction work on Tokyo’s new National Stadium, the centerpiece of the 2020 Summer Olympics, began in December 2016 after a delay of nearly a year.
The original design was rejected because of its high cost, but it is set to be completed in November.
Organizers have presented the 2020 Olympics as an opportunity to soften Japan’s work culture.
The country has few limits on overtime and pay. Employees at more than a fifth of companies exceeded a government threshold of 80 hours of monthly overtime, a white paper showed in 2016.
Last year, the infrastructure ministry predicted the Japanese construction industry would face a shortage of 470,000 to 930,000 workers by 2025.
The Summer Games begin on July 24, 2020.


Clashes erupt in Barcelona as Catalans keep up pressure for split from Spain

Updated 7 min ago

Clashes erupt in Barcelona as Catalans keep up pressure for split from Spain

  • Protests follow jailing of separatists on Monday
  • Pro-independence leaders vow to continue campaign

BARCELONA: Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Barcelona and some clashed with police on Tuesday in a second day of protests over the jailing of nine Catalan separatists by the supreme court for their role in a failed 2017 secession bid.
Pro-independence leaders have vowed to keep pushing for a new referendum on secession, saying Monday’s prison sentences strengthened the movement.
Some Barcelona protesters threw cans and flares at riot police, setting fire to cardboard and other trash in some places. They also tried to kick down security barriers set up around the Spanish government headquarters in the city center.
Police charged the demonstrators with batons, after removing protesters blocking motorways and a train station in the region.
Elsewhere, protesters lit candles and chanted “Freedom for political prisoners” in a rally organized by Omnium Cultural organization, whose chairman Jordi Cuixart was convicted on Monday.
Pro-independence labor union confederation IAC announced a general strike in Catalonia on Friday against labor laws which unions say infringe workers’ rights.
Oriol Junqueras was given the longest sentence, of 13 years, for his role in organizing the 2017 referendum, which was ruled illegal. He told Reuters in his first interview after the sentence that it would only galvanize the independence movement.
“We’re not going to stop thinking what we think, ideals can’t be derailed by (jail) sentences,” he said, saying that a new plebiscite was “inevitable.”
The head of the regional government, Quim Torra, defended the mass protests over sentencing he described as unacceptable.
“A new stage begins where we take the initiative and put the implementation of the right to self-determination back in the center” of our proposals, Torra said, urging Madrid to pay heed and start talks to that effect.
Demonstrators had blocked railways on Monday and thousands descended on Barcelona’s international airport, where some clashed with police. An airport spokesman said 110 flights were canceled on Monday and a 45 more were canceled on Tuesday.
All the defendants were acquitted of the gravest charge, rebellion, but the length of the prison terms — which Junqueras said they planned to appeal in a European court — prompted anger in Catalonia.
Two years after the debacle of the first plebiscite, Catalonia’s independence drive still dominates much of Spain’s fractured political debate, and will likely color a national election on Nov. 10, Spain’s fourth in four years.
Acting foreign minister Josep Borrell said of the issue: “Yesterday, today and tomorrow, it remains a political problem that has to be solved.” He called for dialogue within the framework of the constitution.

GREATER AUTONOMY?
But Borrell said the independence movement had ignored those in Catalonia who were not in favor of breaking away from Spain, saying: “This is a totalitarian attitude.” Separatists have repeatedly rejected such comments.
A dialogue could focus on greater autonomy for Catalonia, possibly within a more federal plurinational framework in Spain, said Santi Vila, one of three sentenced leaders who were not sent to prison.
A known critic of the secessionist agenda who had resigned as Catalan government business counselor just before the independence declaration, Vila called for a new election in the region, something regional government head Torra opposes.
“It looks reasonable that when two governments have such a communication problem ... it’s important to ask citizens if the way being taken is correct or not,” said Vila, 46. While he also supports a referendum, he says it should not be about full independence but self-government powers.
Spain’s main parties have consistently refused to hold an independence referendum in Catalonia, although the acting Socialist government says it is open to dialogue on other issues.
Diana Riba, wife of convicted leader Raul Romeva, told Reuters the independence drive would prevail over time.
“This is a very long process but we will see results as we did with the feminist movement, how they grew until becoming massive and achieving the rights that they were seeking,” she said, calling for “everyone to take to the streets.”