Russia World Cup stadium workers claim lack of payment

At least five labourers at Zenit arena in St Petersburg have died in accidents since 2011

 Sepp Blatter reveals Russia as holders for the 2018 World Cup on December 2nd, 2010, in Zurich. Workers at the Zenit arena say they haven’t received payment in months. File photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Sepp Blatter reveals Russia as holders for the 2018 World Cup on December 2nd, 2010, in Zurich. Workers at the Zenit arena say they haven’t received payment in months. File photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images


Labourers working on one of Russia’s World Cup venues are complaining that they have not been paid for months, despite the budget for the arena increasing fivefold since the country won the right to hold the 2018 competition.

The Zenit arena, the long-delayed World Cup stadium in St Petersburg, has become one of the most expensive sports venues in the world. But the money hasn’t trickled down to construction workers.

Pay delays have become so prevalent that 50 men who worked on the stadium are threatening to sue two subcontractors for 14 million roubles (€191,450) in back wages. Besides pay delays, labourers have also complained of poor work conditions and inconsistent safety standards. At least five men had been killed in accidents at the stadium site since 2011, the Guardian found.

“Everyone has hold-ups now. I haven’t gotten my wages for the third month in a row,” a 47-year-old stadium worker from Uzbekistan, who declined to provide his name for fear he or his relatives could be fired, said.

“We’re taking out credit from relatives and friends in St Petersburg to send home money for our family and kids.”

Of the 15 workers the Guardian spoke to outside Zenit arena, six complained that their wages had been delayed for a month or more.

Initially planned to open in 2009 at a cost of 6.7 billion roubles (€91.9m), the stadium has been mired in delays, cost overruns and corruption allegations. It is now slated to open in May 2016, in time to host matches for the 2017 Fifa Confederations Cup and for the 2018 World Cup, at a cost of at least 38 billion roubles.

In 2013, investigators found that a subcontractor inflated construction costs by $16.5 million (€14.7m). One businessman was sentenced to four years for embezzling 146 million roubles of state funds.

Many of the migrant labourers who built the venues and infrastructure for Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi were forced to work in poor conditions and were cheated of wages, and Zenit arena workers made similar complaints, albeit on a less egregious scale.

General contractor Transstroy said all its employees were paid on time and that the construction site met necessary safety requirements. But myriad subcontractors have built much of the venue.

Working conditions

The estimated 1,200 labourers at the site typically work 10-15 hours a day with only Sundays off. Most make 110 roubles an hour, although specialists and foremen can make 250 roubles. Workers live in wagons or dormitories at the site, with up to 40 men sharing one toilet and shower, according to a foreman.

Although the labourers cook on hot plates or small stoves, several said there was no fire extinguishers or alarms in the wagons and dormitory rooms where they lived.

Some workers said they were required to wear helmets and had to sign safety documentation, while others complained they were not given uniforms or offered these documents to sign.

According to Russian media reports, at least four workers from Russia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine have been killed in accidents at the arena. In addition, the Guardian has established that Narimon Makhmudov, who was born in 1980 in Uzbekistan, was killed in a fall at the site in 2012.

The most frequent complaint was delayed wages. Workers said those who spoke up about conditions could be fired and forced to travel home early, losing any compensation they were due.

“They say if you don’t want to work, then leave, but our kids are waiting for us to work,” said one worker who has three children in Tajikistan.

He said in July he was looking for a new job because he had still not received his May wages. The 50 workers threatening to sue were hired by Kapital and Partner, two subcontractors building the heating and electrical systems.

Ivan Grigoriyev said the employers had promised to pay workers monthly, but gave only small advances that were not enough to go around.

Grigoriyev worked from September 2014 until his contract ended in December, then pursued Kapital’s director for 150,000 roubles in back wages he was owed.

The director eventually disappeared, and Grigoriyev appealed for help to Arkady Chaplygin, a lawyer and member of the opposition Progress party. Chaplygin said that, after he and the workers threatened publicly to sue, Partner paid 200,000 roubles in back wages, but the payments then stopped again.

A Partner employee denied any wrongdoing. “Let them provide factual evidence,” she said, then hung up the phone and didn’t pick up on further attempts. The Guardian could not reach Kapital for comment.

Grigoriyev said many more Zenit workers were owed back wages and hoped they would contact him.

“Families were working on the stadium, from Crimea, even refugees from Ukraine,” he said, “and to not pay these people is low, it’s the lowest thing you can do.”

Guardian Service