2,500 Brazilian Workers Vote To Continue Strike At Rio Olympic Site

The site of Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Park, where workers voted to strike indefinitely. CREDIT: AP
The site of Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Park, where workers voted to strike indefinitely. CREDIT: AP

More than 2,500 workers on the Olympic Park construction site in Rio de Janeirovoted to continue their strike for better working conditions and compensation, continuing a work stoppage at one of the most important construction sites for Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics, Reuters reported Monday.

“We don’t know how long we’ll be on strike,” Antonio Figueiredo Souza, president of the Sintraconst-Rio union, told Reuters. “We are not going back until we get an offer. So far that hasn’t happened and so it looks like this will end up in the Labor Courts.”

A Brazilian court Thursday ordered the workers back on the job, saying that a settlement would be negotiated within 30 days. Instead, the workers continued their strike that began April 3 and voted to continue it indefinitely.

The strike comes at an important time for Brazil, which has faced criticism over its lack of preparedness for the upcoming Olympics from international sporting federations and the International Olympic Committeee, whose officials are supposed to visit the country later this week to discuss ways to address construction delays at Olympic facilities.


The union, in a post on its web site, said that the company overseeing construction at Olympic Park “wants to make up for (delays) by overloading workers.” According to a list of requests on the Sintraconst-Rio site, the workers are asking for guaranteed 100 percent overtime pay, better health care benefits for their families, holiday compensation, and better training and working conditions.

Concern that construction delays are having an adverse effect on workers are not new in Brazil, where missed deadlines have become a theme of the country’s ambitious plan to host both the World Cup and Olympics in such a short span. Less than 60 days from the first match of the World Cup, three host stadiums remain incomplete, including the Sao Paulo arena that is scheduled to host the tournament’s opening match on June 12.

The race to meet deadlines, workers and their representatives have said, is putting them in less-than-ideal conditions, and those fears appear founded: a crane collapse at the Sao Paulo stadium killed two workers in late November, another worker died at the Sao Paulo stadium in March, and three others have died in accidents at the Arena de Amazônia, the Manaus stadium that has also missed completion deadlines. The majority of those deaths have occurred since Brazil’s last-second push to complete stadiums began, and by contrast, just two workers died building stadiums for South Africa’s 2010 World Cup.

Aside from the deaths, Brazil’s construction workers have complained of poor working and living conditions and about delayed pay and under-compensation. Brazilian workers held a one-day strike in July to draw attention to labor conditions, and workers in Manaus had talked about striking before a Brazilian labor court temporarily halted construction to review work and safety conditions. For migrant workers, it’s even worse: a report earlier this year found that many were living and working in “slave-like conditions” and had not received promised employment or compensation.

As Souza said, a Brazilian labor court will likely settle the dispute, but the strike should serve as a reminder that delays shouldn’t lead to conditions like those that have caused problems for World Cup workers — and as a reminder of the conditions that often face workers around events like the Olympics and World Cup, particularly in countries where workers don’t have labor rights or recourse against their employers as many of Brazil’s workers do. Construction workers are still fighting for pay they never received in Sochi, Russia, which hosted the Winter Olympics this year, and 60 workers died on Olympic-related projects there (Russia will host the World Cup in 2018). The situation is worse in Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, where migrant workers enter into a slavery-like system that gives them virtually no labor rights to dispute compensation, change jobs, or even leave the country. Conditions in Qatar are so cavalier that reports from international labor groups estimate that more than 4,000 workers could die on World Cup-related projects before the tournament begins eight years form now. And as we’ve already seen in Brazil, delays that jeopardize the readiness of these projects at their stated deadlines can make the situations even worse for the workers tasked with setting the stage for the world’s biggest sporting events.