The International Trade Union Confederation, with 315 national affiliates, representing 175 million workers, announced its support last week for campaigning by Russian trade unions against new laws attacking workers’ rights in the run-up to the 2018 World Cup.
Five construction workers employed on building new football stadiums in Kazan and St. Petersburg have been killed in recent months as a direct result of inadequate health and safety protection.
An inspection of the Kazan construction site found that half of the sub-contractors working on building the stadium had failed to provide proper health and safety equipment and training for their employees.
Most workers employed on building projects for the 2018 World Cup are migrant labourers from Central Asia and the Caucasus. They face a host of other problems in addition to a lack of health and safety protection.
Outside of the workplace these migrant workers are confronted by racism, including police brutality and physical attacks by right-wing extremists, encouraged by the scapegoating and stigmatising of foreigners by the Russian media and politicians.
All this will be made even worse by new laws – popularly known as the “2018 World Cup Law” or “FZ-108” (Federal Law Number 108 of 2013) – passed by the Russian Parliament in June but not fully publicised until September.
The law came into immediate effect and will remain in force until the end of 2018. It makes special provision for anyone employed in connection with the 2018 World Cup. It targets the rights of workers in general, and of foreign workers in particular.
Article nine of FZ-108 concerns “foreign citizens and stateless individuals on the territory of the Russian Federation” whose “work activities are connected to measures” which relate to the “preparation and staging” of the 2018 World Cup.
Where foreigners and stateless persons are employed on World Cup work, their employers do not need to obtain permission to employ them, inform the authorities of the start and termination of their contracts, nor inform the authorities of the dates of their arrival in and departure from Russia.
Quotas for the number of visas and work permits to be issued for such foreign labour are also scrapped by FZ-108, as too is the requirement to make social security and national insurance deductions from salaries paid to foreigners employed on World Cup work.
Migrant workers themselves do not need to obtain work permits if their work falls within the definition contained in article nine. Nor do they need to register with the authorities.
At first sight, such measures might appear to make life easier for foreign labour, at least temporarily: no restriction on the numbers who can be employed; no requirement to register with the authorities; and, if they obtain World Cup work, regularisation of those currently in the country illegally.
But the picture changes radically once such provisions are placed within the context of article 11 of the law, which applies to anyone — Russian and non-Russian alike — employed in the preparation and staging of the World Cup.
Article 11 scraps a succession of legally guaranteed workers’ rights from the time of the passing of the law until the end of 2018.
Restrictions on the length of the working day which employers can impose are scrapped. The various requirements of the Russian Labour Code concerning rates of pay for night work, weekend working and working on public holidays are likewise scrapped.
In further breaches of the Russian Labour Code overtime payments are scrapped and replaced by time off in lieu, and when workers take paid annual leave is to be unilaterally determined by the employer.
Although article 11 refers to the possibility of such terms and conditions of employment being subject to collective agreement, it also allows employers to unilaterally include them in contracts of employment, just as it allows local authorities to impose them through regulations.
In other articles of FZ-108, the list of employers who will benefit from this abolition of workers’ rights is drawn particularly widely.
It includes not just FIFA itself, national football associations and the Russia 2018 Organising Committee, but also FIFA’s commercial and business partners and licensees, plus all subsidiaries of these bodies, and all contractors and sub-contractors engaged by these organisations.
Anyone working for these employers on work connected, however tenuously, with the preparation and staging of the 2018 World Cup will be denied the rights otherwise guaranteed by the Russian Labour Code.
And the workers who will suffer first and foremost will be foreign workers. And should any of the migrant workers die at work – as many of them undoubtedly will – then the chances of any penalty being imposed on an employer are effectively zero. As a result of FZ-108, there will be no record that they even existed.
Foreign and stateless workers already in Russia are the first victims of FZ-108.
A sharp crackdown by police on illegal migrant labourers in recent months has seen mass round-ups of migrants and their imprisonment in special camps in and around Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Volgograd, Samara, Rostov-on-Don and Kaliningrad.
But to secure at least a temporary legal status, and thereby their release from the camps, the imprisoned migrant workers need only sign up for work connected to the 2018 World Cup. The prison camps are therefore a guaranteed source of defenceless labour for employers.
Hardly by chance, all of the migrant prison camps listed above are located in the immediate vicinity of cities which will be hosting games in the World Cup.
Campaigners are already demanding that FIFA should ensure that the 2018 World Cup is free from systematic labour abuses. Although FIFA is a legitimate target for such campaigning, little or no reliance should be placed upon it to take effective action.
Speaking at a World Cup symposium in April of this year, FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke said: “Less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup. When you have a strong head of state who can decide, as maybe Putin can do in 2018, that is easier for us organisers.”
Trade union activists – and politically aware football fans – should focus their efforts on supporting the Russian trade unions and NGOs who are organising on the ground against the draconian consequences of FZ-108 for World Cup labour.