Japan: Report alleges low pay, overwork and poor access to grievance mechanisms for construction workers at Tokyo Olympics sites

Japan will be hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. While the construction of facilities for the Olympics is underway, the labour rights conditions facing the construction workers have drawn widespread attention. Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), basing on interviews with workers of the Olympics construction projects, published a report titled “The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics” and revealed how low pay, overwork and poor access to grievance mechanisms are creating a “culture of fear” among construction workers.

The report had been sent to the Tokyo Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) and the Japanese Sports Council (JSC), the organizations responsible for the construction of Tokyo 2020 sporting facilities.

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Article
25 November 2019

Japan: Union asks IOC president to investigate alleged labour abuses at Tokyo Olympic venues

Author: Japan Times

"IOC's Bach asked to intervene in Tokyo Olympic labor dispute", 24 Nov 2019

An international trade union wants IOC [International Olympic Committee] President Thomas Bach to intervene and investigate alleged labor and safety violations at venues being built for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

The Building and Wood Workers’ International [BWI]…has asked local organizers, Tokyo’s municipal government, and the Japan Sport Council, for outside inspections of construction sites and the right to interview workers...

...The union asks the International Olympic Committee to “intervene and directly address human rights abuses when local organizing committee fail to do so.”

...The BWI alleges health and safety violations and has been critical of the treatment of migrant workers in Tokyo, the use of subcontractors, and wages. It has also complained about grievance procedures....

[BWI] says three workers have died during the construction process, and it also alleges that “venues have been built using tropical rainforest timber from companies with a documented history of indigenous and worker rights violations.”

...[BWI's] letter [to IOC] references the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights...The IOC has added the U.N. guidelines to host city contracts that come into effect with the 2024 Paris Olympics.

...[T]he IOC said it had asked the International Labor Organization, a United Nations body, to help negotiate a settlement.

“The IOC also engaged in a number of discussions and we still hope a solution can be found,” the IOC said in a statement to AP... 

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Article
7 October 2019

Japan: Labour union requests inspections of Tokyo Olympic venues

Author: The Associated Press

"Labor union wants inspections at Games venues", 3 October 2019

Tokyo Olympic organizers and two government bodies building venues for next year’s games have until the end of the month to agree to outside inspections on construction sites.

Ambet Yuson, the general secretary of the Building and Wood Workers’ International [BWI], made the request...to officials of the Tokyo organizing committee, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Japan Sport Council.

He is also asking them to meet with aggrieved workers.

The international trade union has been critical for several years of labor practices at venues for next year’s Olympics. Issues include health and safety, the treatment of migrant workers, the use of subcontractors, and wages.

Yuson said BWI has documented four deaths linked to work on Olympic venues and is trying to verify a fifth.

...Yuson said about 20 officials of all three bodies attended the meeting at the organizing committee offices, along with a representative by video call from the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee.

In a statement, the organizing committee said it concluded “there was no violation of any laws. If their (BWI’s) understanding of this issue differed from ours, we asked them to provide objective and reliable proof of the points alleged in their report.”

Yuson said he was prepared to elevate the request to the IOC...

...[Yuson] said organizers and the government bodies argued that contractors or subcontractors were responsible for solving the labor issues...

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Article
26 August 2019

Japan: Int'l union seeks third-party investigation into labour conditions at Tokyo Olympic sites

Author: The Asahi Shimbun

"International union: Workers still in danger at Olympic sites", 26 Aug 2019

The death of another construction worker at a Tokyo Olympics venue has prompted an international labor union to seek a third party investigation, saying its earlier warning about perilous conditions has been largely ignored.

Workers...said they hope the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) gets more involved in inspecting the “dangerous” construction sites for the Games.

The BWI released a report in May [2019] titled “The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics” that…detailed the harsh conditions faced by the laborers, including some who worked for 28 straight days in one month. Others were forced to work under huge slabs of concrete swinging from cranes.

The organizing committee and Tokyo metropolitan government interviewed officials of the main contractors of major construction sites…[A] response was sent to BWI arguing, “It was inconceivable for workers to labor 28 straight days since Sundays are, in principle, days off.”

The response also said relevant laws were being obeyed to ensure safety.

However, BWI officials pointed out that no interviews were conducted with the actual laborers at each site, leading to a large gap between reality and what was contained in the report submitted to the BWI…

When the BWI released its May report, it said two construction workers had died in connection with the Tokyo Olympics…

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Article
10 June 2019

Japan: Human rights group asks for worker safety investigation at Tokyo Olympics venues

Author: The Washington Post (US)

“Rights group asks for worker-safety probe at Tokyo Olympics”, 5 June 2019

 A former Olympian and head of a human-rights group is asking the IOC and Tokyo Olympic organizers to investigate worker safety at venues being built for next year’s games. Mary Harvey is the CEO of the Geneva-based Centre for Sport and Human Rights...

Tokyo has come under similar scrutiny since a report — “The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics” — was published last month by the Building and Wood Workers’ International union, which also investigated Qatar conditions…

... Harvey said in an interview with The Associated Press… “Everyone should be taking a serious look at the risks identified in BWI’s report… everyone who is a stakeholder, including the IOC, the Japanese government and construction companies,” she added…

Local organizers, the city government and the Japan Sport Council said they have asked BWI “to provide more detailed information.” A joint statement said it is “difficult to confirm the facts only with information contained in the currently published report.” For its part, BWI has called for outside inspections and said that its efforts “have been largely ignored, and workers and their trade unions have been met with hostility.”… In a statement, the IOC said “we take these issues very seriously and are committed to working with the relevant stakeholders to address them and find the appropriate solutions.”

Many sports governing bodies have signed up to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which spell out practices for businesses and government… The IOC said that two years ago it added the UN guidelines to host city contracts that come into effect with the 2024 Paris Olympics. That excludes Tokyo, and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, where independent labor unions are barred by China’s authoritarian government…

The IOC said it works closely with the International Labour Organization… The IOC said the ILO will discuss the problems with “relevant Japanese authorities.”…

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Article
15 May 2019

Culture of fear: Report alleges low pay and overwork for laborers at Tokyo Olympics sites

Author: Japan Times

… The report from Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), titled “The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics,” is based on interviews with construction workers and documents how low pay, overwork and poor access to grievance mechanisms are creating a “culture of fear” among crews working on Olympic projects. BWI… is seeking an end to “dangerous patterns of overwork,” citing the example of construction workers at the National Stadium and Olympic Village who reported being required to work up to 26 and 28 consecutive days, respectively…

Among the findings, one case at the National Stadium was highlighted for being particularly grievous. The report cited the rejection of a complaint about a worker’s injury because it had been brought by a union and not the injured party. The alleged rejection “constitutes a serious violation of the right to be represented, a core component of the right to freedom of association,” the federation said in the report.

The BWI sent a delegation to Tokyo last September to meet with key decision-makers and investigate the “conditions faced by workers in the construction of Tokyo 2020 Olympic facilities.” Their findings were further substantiated by interviews conducted in February by BWI and its Japanese affiliate, the National Federation of Construction Workers’ Unions, with workers involved in the construction of the National Stadium and Olympic Village.

The report was sent… to the organizing committee of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Japan Sports Council — groups responsible for the construction of Olympic facilities. The 2020 organizing committee said Tuesday evening the report is “under review.”… [“The Tokyo Organising Committee... is now reviewing the contents of the report and will cooperate with related stakeholders to look into the alleged issue”]

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Report
14 May 2019

BWI Report demands active trade union role in Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Author: Building and Wood Workers' International

The BWI and Japanese construction union Zenkensoren has… released a study into the labour conditions of workers building the Tokyo 2020 facilities, saying that more must be done to protect workers’ safety and ensure decent work. The report, entitled The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics… documents on how ongoing overwork and poor access to justice are creating a culture of fear for Tokyo 2020 construction workers.

“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,” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. “Wages remain low, dangerous overwork is common, and workers have limited access to recourse to address their issues.”

The report was sent… to the Tokyo Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) and the Japanese Sports Council (JSC), the organisations responsible for the construction of Tokyo 2020 sporting facilities, and is based on interviews with workers on the New National Stadium and Olympic Village.

 “Workers told us about ongoing patterns of dangerous and illegal overwork on Tokyo 2020 sites, even though one worker has already died as a result of karoshi, death by overwork,” Yuson said. “...Two workers have already died for this Olympics, unless TOCOG, TMG and JSC step in to restrict dangerous overwork we may see more.” “We also spoke to workers that had to buy their own safety equipment,” said Yuson, noting that bogus self-employment was allowing employers to escape from their fundamental obligations to guarantee worker safety…

In addition, the report notes the ongoing problems that exist with the grievance mechanism systems established to address violations of the Sustainable Sourcing Code… The report even notes that when a union filed a complaint on behalf of a member it was rejected because the worker had not filed it himself…

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