World Cup security strike spreads to half of venues, Johannesburg latest to be hit

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup strike spreads to half of venues

JOHANNESBURG — A strike over pay by the security stewards at World Cup stadiums spread to half the tournament’s 10 venues Tuesday, forcing police to step in and assume their duties.

Johannesburg police said they were bringing in more than 1,000 officers to guarantee security for the game between Brazil and North Korea later at Ellis Park.

Meanwhile, several hundred guards walked off the job at Soccer City, the main World Cup stadium in Johannesburg. There was no match there Tuesday.

Police said they also have taken over security at stadiums in Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, where Portugal and Ivory Coast played to a 0-0 draw.

At issue is a wage dispute between the mostly black stewards and Stallion Security Consortium, a private, black-run company hired by World Cup organizers to provide stewards for five of the 10 venues.

At Ellis Park, hundreds of stewards and security guards dressed in their black uniforms sang, whistled and chanted for more pay just hours before the Brazil-North Korea match.

“Everywhere we go, we have rights,” they sang outside the stadium. Armed police kept watch but did not interfere.

A woman who answered the phone at Stallion’s Johannesburg office said company officials were at the stadium in a meeting about the dispute.

The strikers said they were being offered from 126 rand ($16.50) to 190 rand ($25), for 12- to 15-hour shifts. They were demanding at least 450 rand per day ($59).

Strikers, wearing knit caps and gloves, accused the security company of mistreating them, feeding them only one meal during their shifts, with often rotten food. They said many were unable to get home after getting off work late in the evening and were spending the night at bus and police stations in the frigid cold.

“We are freezing,” said Denis Manganye. “They said this World Cup we would be getting money. Where is the money?”

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.

“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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