Security stewards strike in Johannesburg, Durban as World Cup labor dispute continues

By Jean H. Lee, AP
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Security stewards protest in Durban, Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG — Stadium stewards went on strike for better wages outside Ellis Park ahead of a World Cup match between Brazil and North Korea, while demonstrators in Durban broke up after receiving payment.

Both the strike and the protest Tuesday were part of a wider dispute between security staff at the World Cup stadiums and a private contractor. They come against a backdrop of concern about lax security at tournament venues.

At Ellis Park, hundreds of workers chanted, whistled and sang outside the stadium after calling a strike around midday.

A 26-year-old man from Tembisa said he’s been offered 190 rand ($25) to work 10 hours, and that pay has been going down since he started work on May 27. He would work for 500 rand ($65), he said. The man spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

World Cup organizers have said that police will take over security if stewards in Johannesburg follow their colleagues in Durban and Cape Town by striking.

In Durban, some 2,000 stewards protested over wages Tuesday, calling on FIFA to confirm what they should earn for working at the tournament.

Most of the demonstrators left after a couple of hours when they were paid 205 rand ($26.50) in exchange for turning in their orange stewards’ bibs.

“I am not happy about it, but I’m all right,” a man who gave only his first name, James, said as he left the protest.

The demonstration started with about 150 stewards dancing, chanting and singing as they walked from near the Moses Mabhida Stadium to a rally near Durban’s busy downtown railroad. As their numbers swelled, they walked in an orderly column back to the stadium, where dozens of police shepherded them into a fenced-off field.

The stewards and a union official both called on FIFA to mediate in the dispute with Stallion Security Consortium, which has not commented on the situation.

“We are trying to gather more information, so we can attempt to engage FIFA and the local organizing committee and find a solution,” South African Transport and Allied Workers Union coordinator Mzwandile Jackson Simon said.

“There are indications they are willing to work something out,” he added. “I don’t think police will manage on their own.”

Simon said the union is convinced that Stallion has made wage commitments to the stewards that were not fulfilled, and that the company needs to be an active part of efforts to resolve the dispute.

On Monday, police took over security at stadiums in Durban and Cape Town after the stewards protested. Both cities are scheduled to host semifinals next month. Police were posted around the Durban stadium Tuesday and carried out checks that previously were done by the stewards.

Durban police used tear gas and rubber bullets after Sunday’s match between Germany and Australia to disperse a crowd of stewards at the stadium.

The chief executive of the World Cup organizing committee, Danny Jordaan, said Monday he respects workers’ rights but called match-day disruptions “unacceptable” and said authorities “will not hesitate to take action in such instances.”

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