03/12/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Olympic projects built with "the blood" of migrant workers

Human Rights Watch has interviewed migrant workers who built the "new" Beijing. There emerges a picture of widespread exploitation, without hope of redress. On the protection of migrants, the Chinese government is considered "all talk and no action", and the IOC is called upon to explain what it has done.

Beijing (AsiaNews/HRW) - The grandiose Olympic projects and the new face of the city of Beijing are the work of an army of migrant workers exploited by their employers. They "work in dangerous conditions, have no access to medical treatment and often go unpaid".  Human Rights Watch denounces today, in the report "One Year of My Blood", an "ordinary" history of exploitation, amid the indifference of the government and of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Approximately one million migrant workers participated in the projects, 90% of the entire labour force used.  The study gathered many of their testimonies.  A grim picture emerges: they work with no contracts, sometimes for 16 hours a day, for pay lower than the legal minimum, without any holidays or weekly days off.  One migrant says that for the "normal" 10-16 hours of work per day, 360 days a year, he received 60 yuan (8 dollars) a day, while the minimum legal payment is 75 yuan for 10 hours, and 136 for 16 hours of work in one day.

At least half of the labourers say that their employer was always late with payment, sometimes by months, and many were paid less than the agreed amount, or not all.  And it is difficult for migrants to ask for justice, because they have no contract and they are not registered as residents of Beijing.  For the same reason, they have no health care.  Many of their employers put them in dormitories without heat, electricity, or drinking water, or in tents on the construction site.

Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for HRW, denounces the absence of official supervision and says that in terms of the rights of migrant workers, "the Chinese government is all talk and no action". HRW also recalls that the IOC is responsible for overseeing labour conditions for Olympic projects, and calls upon the body to release its findings.  In January, Beijing at first denied and then admitted to six fatal accidents in the course of these projects.  If the IOC "really prides itself on its dedication to ‘fundamental universal ethical principles'", Richardson says, "then the International Olympics Committee must ensure that workers who help build Beijing’s Olympic venues are at least treated fairly and in accordance with Chinese law and . . . fundamental international human rights standards".

The spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Qin Gang, replied at a press conference that HRW "has a problem with vision but is unwilling to wear glasses". But no comment on the many accusations.

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