A construction worker carries a fence at the construction site of the Tokyo Olympic Village in Tokyo. Photo: AP/Jae C Hong
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Human rights group asks for worker-safety probe at Tokyo Olympic venues

21 Comments
By Stephen Wade

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, the type of organization that pressured Qatar to reform labor practices - particularly regarding migrant labor - for its 2022 soccer World Cup.

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.

The report alleges patterns of overwork, some workers without employment contracts, and what it characterized as a "culture of fear" that discouraged workers from reporting their employment conditions. Much of the attention was focused on foreign workers.

"To think this is going away is burying your head in the sand, and I'm concerned it's going to get worse," Harvey said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The heat of the summer months is upon us while construction deadlines are trying to be met. Someone dying or committing suicide shouldn't be acceptable to anyone."

Harvey, a goalkeeper on the 1996 United States women's Olympic soccer team, said she wanted to assist the International Olympic Committee "given our work and key learning from construction-related risks in Qatar."

"Everyone should be taking a serious look at the risks identified in BWI's report and, by everyone, I mean everyone who is a stakeholder, including the IOC, the Japanese government and construction companies," she added.

The report singles out work on the $1.25 billion national stadium, which is run by the Japan Sport Council - a national government body - and work at the Olympic Village, being built by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Those units will eventually be sold off as high-end apartments.

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."

Ambet Yuson, the general secretary of BWI, said in an interview with the AP that the case needs "to be elevated to the IOC. We need to see what they will do about Tokyo and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics."

He credited Japan with having a "strong, organized labor system. They take pride in their own system. So being told they need to make sure they are up to the international level is different. They say: 'No, we are at the international level.' But migrant workers are something they don't know."

He added that Japanese officials "are in the denial stage that problems exist, but they exist."

Yuson cited an interview in Tokyo with a migrant worker from Vietnam who didn't speak or read Japanese. And there was no alternative language available.

"In Qatar you would see signs in different languages - Hindi, English and Arabic. So how can (migrant) workers be told about health and safety conditions?" Yuson asked.

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 U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights , which spell out practices for businesses and government. They include soccer governing bodies FIFA and UEFA, the Commonwealth Games Federation, the International Paralympic Committee and Qatar's 2022 World Cup.

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.

FIFA has been praised by human-rights leaders for reforms enacted in the wake of a 2015 corruption scandal. In a report requested by FIFA, Harvard University professor John G Ruggie said FIFA "leapfrogs other major international sports organizations" in human rights measures.

The IOC said it works closely with the International Labour Organization, a UN agency that sets labor standards. The IOC said the ILO will discuss the problems with "relevant Japanese authorities."

The ILO's Tokyo office said general secretary Guy Ryder may meet Japanese government officials at an ILO conference on June 10-21 in Geneva. Ryder will be in Japan at the end of the month for the G20 meetings. He's also due back in Japan later in the year.

With an aging and declining population, Japan is short-handed in many industries. The government has provided more visas for construction workers tied to the Olympics, and in April started allowing more foreign workers to reside in the country.

The BWI report said almost half of the workers interviewed did not have formal contracts, and it found "dangerous patterns of overwork" at both high-profile venues. It said some workers at the Olympic Village reported working 28 consecutive days, and up to 26 straight at the national stadium.

The report said about 55,000 migrant workers are employed in the construction sector. It said most wages were half to one-third of those paid to Japanese workers.

The report also said some problems were made worse by looming deadlines with the Olympics opening July 24, 2020. Japan is spending at least $20 billion to prepare for the Olympics, about 70 percent public money.

The report noted that two workers have died on projects for the Tokyo Olympics.

Death by overwork, known as karoshi, is a problem in Japan with employees often forced to work long hours despite government measures to try to prevent it.

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


21 Comments
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Calling those buildings a "village" is laughable. What an ugly urban landscape.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Japan is not going to fold under pressure from any rights groups. It will get brushed off, and passed over with no comment. Odds are this wont even make the mainstream media nor newspapers, as the show must go on.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Tokyo is open to international scrutiny during an Olympic event.

The world knows that foreign workers are building the venues.

As said, ‘it won’t go away’

6 ( +7 / -1 )

agree with kurisupisu

3 ( +5 / -2 )

"Yuson cited an interview in Tokyo with a migrant worker from Vietnam who didn't speak or read Japanese."

and

"It said most wages were half to one-third of those paid to Japanese workers."

That is why they are not being paid the same wages as the Japanese because foreigners can't speak or write Japanese thus they can't perform the same jobs as the Japanese ,which require Japanese ability and higher skills level.

LOL LOL LOL

-11 ( +1 / -12 )

I just imagine how many foreigners not Vietnamese who can't read or write Japanese and getting a better wages than Japanese people, is that fair?

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Japan is not going to fold under pressure from any rights groups. It will get brushed off, and passed over with no comment. 

Same with most other countries preparing for the Olympics and World Cup. A lot of this going on and even worker deaths being swept under the carpet.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A very good report.  Foreign workers are mostly hired by subcontractors where violations of human rights and exploitations are everyday happenings. The subcontractors make profits by cutting pays of their workers to get gaps they get from their parent companies. They belong to the category we call "black companies."

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I know a Japanese working for a very ‘black company’-no insurance,no pension payments,wages in cash etc..

And that is how a Japanese treats a fellow Japanese!

What hope do the foreigners have?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Sadly NOTHING will happen, with basically a year to go Jpn will kick this down the road & suddenly the olympics will start, "mission" accomplished

Japan has been crapping on those low on the totem pole since forever, part of the culture sadly

4 ( +4 / -0 )

This is funny, they could spend decades in Japan on this topic alone

3 ( +3 / -0 )

 because foreigners can't speak or write Japanese thus they can't perform the same jobs as the Japanese ,which require Japanese ability and higher skills level.LOL LOL LOL

well guess what my Japanese ability speaking and writing is limited, but it doesn't stop me earning considerably more than your average J salary, last year I actually paid more tax that what the average Japanese worker earns in a year. how is that possible you may ask? well I have skills that my job requires that most Japanese dont pocess. and no Im not an english teacher ... In fact the average wage in my home country is more than what a J salaryman earns in Japan . So as you can see the so called "Japanese ability and higher skills level" doesn't mean squat outside Japan and certainly doesn't guarantee you a high wage in Japan .LOL LOL LOL

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The report alleges patterns of overwork, some workers without employment contracts, and what it characterized as a "culture of fear" that discouraged workers from reporting their employment conditions.

Lol! TIJ!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

foreigners not Vietnamese who can't read or write Japanese and getting a better wages than Japanese people, is that fair?

what does that even mean, they're talking about construction industry which earn higher in Japan because Japanese dont want to do it. basic supply and demand. Foreigners are doing the same job as japanese they require a minimal amount of Japanese language to get the job theyre doing other wise how would they know what to do.

eg, if Im a gaijin installing windows in a building along side a Japanese worker I can understand enough Japanese to do the job (basic Japanese ability is required to get a working visa), we are both doing the exact same job how is it fair that the Japanese earn more than I , basic human rights , same work same pay.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

well guess what my Japanese ability speaking and writing is limited, but it doesn't stop me earning considerably more than your average J salary, last year I actually paid more tax that what the average Japanese worker earns in a year. how is that possible you may ask? well I have skills that my job requires that most Japanese dont pocess. and no Im not an english teacher ... In fact the average wage in my home country is more than what a J salaryman earns in Japan . So as you can see the so called "Japanese ability and higher skills level" doesn't mean squat outside Japan and certainly doesn't guarantee you a high wage in Japan .LOL LOL LOL

Are you working at construction site like these guys interviewed and earning as much as paying more tax than what the average Japanese worker earns in a year? Good for you.

 very good report. Foreign workers are mostly hired by subcontractors where violations of human rights and exploitations are everyday happenings. The subcontractors make profits by cutting pays of their workers to get gaps they get from their parent companies. They belong to the category we call "black companies."

I agree. but I suppose the level of skills must be different and they are almost all trainees. If they cannot support their lives here with such small payments, they should not come.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

They want more information ? More likely who leaked the information on them, so they can go after them.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

He added that Japanese officials "are in the denial stage that problems exist, but they exist."

The bureaucratic MO in Jpn.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Most qualified construction workers are licensed and difficult to obtain for the non Japanese but not impossible. Foreigners working the construction sites like Vietnamese are laborers not electricians, gas plumber, plumbers, carpenters.

Because of the Olympics there is a shortage of construction workers plus the areas recovering from disaster damage. There's also a shortage of some important construction materials, like bolts for example.

The likes of Vietnamese, Filipino earn more than back home but still less than a Japanese will earn.

Compare the construction of the Olympics with say, the World Cup in Qatar and there's a very shocking and appalling difference for the pay of the workers, the health and safety issues and their living conditions.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Yeah those buildings DO remind me of the ugly danchi left over from the 70-80s nasty way to "live"

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The BWI report said almost half of the workers interviewed did not have formal contracts, and it found "dangerous patterns of overwork" at both high-profile venues. It said some workers at the Olympic Village reported working 28 consecutive days, and up to 26 straight at the national stadium.

Yes This is serious problem for the gov to step in and solve. Not only make all the construction companies conclude formal contracts but also instruct all the agencies which recruit those labors overseas to properly conduct recruiting process helping them to fully understand the contents of contracts and acualu living conditions in Japan. Then those guys shall not complain too much afterwards.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

acualu living conditions in Japan - actual living conditions in Japan

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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