‘Friendly’ Commonwealth Games Not So Friendly to Workers

Lindsay Beyerstein

An Indian woman works at a construction project on February 1, 2010, in New Delhi, India. The Commonwealth Games are due to be held in the Indian capital from October 3-14, 2010, but concerns remain over construction of its sporting and transport infrastructure.

Forty-three workers have been killed on Commonwealth Games projects in Delhi, India, according to a report released yesterday by a special panel. The High Court of Dehli appointed the four-member body to investigate rampant abuses of migrant construction workers in the run-up to the games.

Every four years, athletes from Britain and its former colonies face off in the Commonwealth Games, also known as the Friendly Games.” But the $16 billion spectacle doesn’t seem so friendly to the people building the facilies.

Untold thousands of migrant workers have traveled to the capital in the hopes of getting construction jobs — there are an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 migrant construction workers in the city. They are hard at work building facilities and refurbishing tourist destinations, and the work is proceeding at breakneck speed because so many projects are behind schedule.

Oversight is lax and abuses are rampant. Projects have been handed over to subcontractors who, human rights groups say, have cozy relationships with the authorities.

The report paints a grim picture. Many workers arrive to find that their wages are only a fraction of what they were promised and well below minimum wage. The investigators found that 415,000 workers on games-related projects were not being paid adequately. Forced unpaid overtime is rampant. 

Safety conditions on the jobsites are deplorable. The panel found that workers were denied safety equipment, and are forced to live in substandard housing with inadequate sanitation. Women face job discrimination. In theory, injured workers are entitled to medical care and compensation, but for most people those niceities exist only on paper.

The current motto of the Commonwealth Games is Equality, Humanity, Destiny.” That’s not really tenable in light of the hundreds of thousands of Indians who have been brutalized and exploited. At this point Irony, Perfidy, Apathy” would be a more appropriate slogan.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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