Workers’ strike stops World Cup construction
Johannesburg — South African construction workers went on an indefinite strike Wednesday at stadiums being built for the 2010 World Cup — a move that could derail Africa’s historic first World Cup tournament.
About 70,000 workers at stadiums across the country downed tools after wage negotiations deadlocked earlier this week. Workers are demanding a 13 percent pay increase while employers are only offering a 10.4 percent rise.
The strike could delay completion of flagship projects such as the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, the Green Point stadium in Cape Town and the Moses Mobhida stadium in Durban.
Stadiums need to be completed by December to meet deadlines set by the world soccer body FIFA before the tournament kicks off in June 2010.
Lesiba Seshoka of the National Union of Mineworkers, which represents construction workers, said the strike would continue until employers met their demands.
The unions have complained that some workers are earning about $1.50 an hour and others $5 a week. Workers in South Africa are supposed to earn a minimum wage of about $200 a month.
“It is a very sad situation in which people think workers must be sacrificial lambs because there is a recession, whilst that recession also affects our members more,” union negotiator Bhekani Ngcobo said in a statement.
The workers have been criticized for jeopardizing South Africa’s chances of hosting a successful World Cup — a monthlong event avidly watched by hundreds of millions around the world.
But the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which represents the country’s largest trade union federations, has come out in support of the construction workers and says the dispute is not targeted at the World Cup.
“COSATU, and the construction workers, are as passionate about the 2010 World Cup as anyone, and will do everything possible to ensure its success. But we will not tolerate the stadiums being built by workers who are underpaid or working in dangerous or unhealthy conditions,” the organization said in a statement.
Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the local organizing committee, said the strike would soon be resolved and was confident the stadiums will be completed on schedule.
“The construction workers have been the lifeblood of the 2010 FIFA World Cup project. Their hard work has ensured that we are on track to meet our deadlines and that our stadiums will be among the best in the world next year,” he said in a statement.
The employers’ group, the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Construction, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.