Hard work, little reward on SA's World Cup sites

Joseph Moloto works overtime pouring concrete and hauling heavy metal pillars at a 2010 Fifa World Cup stadium site, in a rush to complete work for an event for which he has no enthusiasm.

Wage disputes and feelings of exclusion have seen morale dive at construction sites, where workers hammering together South Africa’s World Cup dream struggle to survive.

“I wish things were different. The employers really do not care about us. They want to pocket all the money,” said Moloto in a subdued voice, sitting on a pile of concrete rubble.

The exhausted 60-year-old is one of thousands who embarked on a week-long strike which ended Wednesday as bosses agreed to improve salaries by 12%, one percent less than unions demanded.

With years of experience, Moloto feels exploited in an industry which dips with ease into the large pool of unemployed labourers eager for a job.

Unions feel it is the pressure to deliver on World Cup promises which led to the first ever successful national construction strike.

“This is a very labour intensive industry, yet very exploitative, no one can survive on what we are getting paid,” laments Moloto.

The migrant worker from Mpumalanga province, some 320 kilometres from Johannesburg, says he earns an average of R1 200 every two weeks.

This is before the increase, the details of which have not yet been publicised.

He says the pay does not compensate for hours of hard labour spent to get the stadia delivered on time.

Moloto’s day begins at 4:30 in the morning, when he wakes up in a hostel dorm to prepare for a train ride to the construction site at Soccer City in Johannesburg, where he has worked since building started in 2007.

The stadium will host the opening match of the 2010 World Cup on Friday June 11, and the final a month later.

“Our shift starts at 7:00 am and we can go on until 2:00 am the following day,” he said, as employers push to reach completion deadlines.

“People are risking their lives trying to earn extra money by working overtime.
We are always tired and that is not good when you are supposed to be alert all the time,” he said.

The father of six school-going children sends most of his meagre income to his unemployed wife back home.

The logo on the workers’ blue overalls reads: “I am proud to be building Soccer City for 2010.” But Moloto is nonplussed by the world’s most-watched sporting event.

“I am not proud at all. The construction industry has not been good to me. We are unable to feed ourselves so why should I be happy or proud,” he said.

This ageing puffy-eyed man who boasts 29 years of experience in the building industry considers himself well-skilled for the job, despite lack of formal training.

“I have been involved in many major projects. I have built dams in Lesotho, power stations in South Africa and Mozambique. I have learnt a lot, but my salary does not show it. I have nothing to show for it,” he said.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)-led strike saw 70 000 workers downing tools at five World Cup stadiums which are still being built for the World Cup.—AFP

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