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Russia Exploits Migrant Workers for Olympics, Rights Group Says

Workers building sites and infrastructure for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia’s Black Sea city of Sochi are being exploited and cheated out of their wages, according to Human Rights Watch.

Employers have forced some workers to work 12-hour shifts with few days off, withheld passports and work permits and refused to pay promised salaries, the New York-based human rights body said in a 67-page report released today.

President Vladimir Putin has sought to attract large international events, which also include the 2018 soccer World Cup and last year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Russia has spent $50 billion on the preparation for the Sochi Olympics.

“Like the athletes competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia has big hopes and dreams for its performance in Sochi as the host,” Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, said in an e-mailed statement. “But exploiting workers is a victory for no one and Russia urgently needs to change course.”

Human Rights Watch, which documented the treatment of migrant workers at key Olympic venues including the Central Olympic Stadium and the Main Olympic Village and other construction sites, said it had interviewed 66 laborers from 2009 to 2012.

12-Hour Shifts

The workers were from Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine and reported earning between $1.80 to $2.60 an hour. One group of laborers employed in building the media center, the hub for journalists covering the Games, worked for months without wages hoping to be paid, the rights group said. Many other workers reported that employers withheld the first month’s pay, according to Human Rights Watch.

The migrants were housed in overcrowded accommodation and fed insufficiently given the long hours they worked, Human Rights Watch said. Shifts typically last 12 hours from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. and 8 p.m to 8 a.m for seven days a week with one day off every two weeks, in violation of Russian law, it said.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who is responsible for the Olympics preparations, said while abuses of workers’ rights may be occurring, they are not on a large scale.

With 96,000 workers employed by 500 companies on 800 construction sites, “it would be impossible not to have such incidents,” he told reporters in Sochi yesterday.

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