Labour migrant rights violated in Sochi Olympic construction

A labour migrant from Uzbekistan who was not paid salary for two months; photo by Human Rights Watch
Russian authorities erected Olympic facilities in Sochi using labour migrants from the CIS, including Uzbeks, but without respecting their rights, Human Rights Watch has said.

There is one year to go until the beginning of Winter Olympics-2014 in Sochi, but rows over the construction and completion of sports facilities are not ceasing.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also had its say in criticising the Russian authorities’ preparation of Sochi for the Olympics.

On 6 February, it presented a report entitled “Race to the Bottom: Exploitation of Migrant Workers Ahead of Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi”.

On its 67 pages, HRW experts analysed results of the construction of Olympic facilities in terms of the observation of human rights.

Conclusions drawn by the experts proved to be unambiguous: during the Olympic construction, Russian authorities have used workforce from CIS countries, but labour migrants have been exploited in breach of all both international and even Russian laws.

Twelve-hour shift without salary

Analysts said they polled on condition of anonymity 66 out of over 16,000 labour migrants from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Ukraine and Serbia, who have worked on Olympic construction sites between 2009 and December 2012.

Virtually all of them stated that Russian companies that hired them failed to fulfil their obligations to pay for their work and forced them to work 12 hours a day with only one day-off in a fortnight (the existing Russian law provides for 40 hours of work a week) and took away their passports.

Workers lived by 8-14 people in a small room with improper conditions (14 men live in a room with an area of 36 sq m).

There have been frequent cases of salaries not being paid. For example, it was taken for granted not to pay the first monthly salary to labour migrants, promising them to pay for the first month upon the completion of construction.

However, these promises have never been kept. In addition, no contract was signed with them.

When workers tried to express their indignation, they immediately faced repressions, which would include up to calling Federal Migration Service officers and deporting guest workers from the country.

According to workers, though employers promised to pay them a monthly salary of $1,500, labour migrants would only receive from $455 to $605 on average.

Cheated Uzbeks

Uzbek citizen Omurbek (name changed) verbally agreed to work for $770. However, during his work between December 2011 and February 2012, the company that employed him had never paid him his salary.

“I worked for almost three months, others for five months, for free. They only kept promising and promising,” he told human rights activists.

Abdulatif, who worked from October 2011 to March 2012, was promised the same amount and received it regularly during the first three months.

Ice Palace in the centre of Sochi; photo by Human Rights Watch (c)
But from January to mid-March 2012, he was not paid anything either.

Yunus, a worker from the same team, came to work in December 2011. But he was paid $77 for December only in February, he told Human Rights Watch. After that, he had to work for 70 days without being paid. As a result, Yunus left the construction work without having been paid his salary.

Several workers told Human Rights Watch that they repeatedly appealed to a labour inspection agency in 2010, but, as a result, 50 outraged Uzbek workers faced repressions in October the same year and many of them were deported.

Dilmurod, one of those Uzbek protestors, said that he was initially paid $325-$484, but problems arose after the October protest action staged by workers. As a result, the Uzbek labour migrant received $1,360 less than his due.

Olympic contractors deny

All of those contractor companies from which Human Rights Watch sought explanation of the situation said that information did not correspond to the reality. has also contacted the state corporation Olympstroy, which is in charge of Olympic constructions.

Officials of the company suggested that we should send an official query, which was later sent. As soon as a reply is received, will publish it.

I worked for almost three months, others for five months, for free. They only kept promising and promising

Uzbek labour migrant Omurbek
Another organisation, which migrants told the human rights organisation was responsible for their condition, SU-45, formerly known as Montazhtransstroy, refused to comment.

One of the employees of this company told over the phone that he had never heard of anything like that and that he was paid regularly without any delays.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Sochi for inspection the following day after the publication of the report.

That day, the country started the Olympic countdown, which will be accompanied by large-scale events, including in sports facilities that have already been fully constructed.

For her part, the author of the report, Human Rights Watch Associate Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division, Jane Buchanan, said that “athletes, journalists and Olympic ticket holders in Sochi will watch the 2014 Winter Games in iconic modern sports venues, broadcast centers and hotels”.

“But many migrant workers have toiled in exploitative, abusive conditions to build these shimmering facades and luxurious interiors,” she said.