2010 World Cup Imperiled By Construction Strikes

There’s long been concern that the 2010 World Cup may not exactly go smoothly down in South Africa. You’d want and hope for better things to usher in the first sub-Saharan World Cup, and the recent Confederations Cup seemed to be a marked step in the right direction. Well, aside from the vuvuzelas.

(On the plus side, anything to cut down on the use of these beehorns is an undebatably positive step.)

But even as fears began to subside and optimism returned to the Cup, workers at the various stadia being built groused about low pay, often in direct violation of South African minimum wage (there’s that corruption cropping up again). Now, they’ve gone on strike, directly jeopardizing the country’s ability to host the tournament that looms just 11 months away.

The NEW YORK TIMES reports that the strike has major, major potential consequences:

Thousands of South African construction workers walked off their jobs on Wednesday, beginning a nationwide strike that could threaten the biggest event in international soccer, the 2010 World Cup.

“We’re all proud to be working on a World Cup site, but pride does not fill your family’s stomach,” said Martin Baloyi, a 42-year-old laborer who laid aside his tools this afternoon at Soccer City, the behemoth of a stadium here in Johannesburg where the finals are scheduled to be played.

At issue, unsurprisingly, are wage negotiations. While builders have proposed a 10.4 percent increase in wages, the workers have asked for 13 percent, plus things that you or I take for granted:

The companies have countered with a 10.4 percent offer, while publicly complaining that union demands include a costly set of enhanced benefits, like a meal allowance, payment for days lost due to inclement weather and four months of maternity leave.

“This package all adds up to a 50 percent increase in costs, and on top of that is the 13 percent in wages, so you are looking at 63 or 65 percent extra and that’s way too much,” said Joe Campanella, a spokesman for the consortium.

See, basic stuff… wait a second. Meal allowances? Four months maternity leave?! Hey, Brooks? We don’t even get that! Now I want to go to South Africa and get someone pregnant just so I can cash in on some of that (plus unprotected sex feels really, really good, and nothing can go wrong, especially over there!).

Being that the potential outcome of not settling the strike would be unimaginably embarrassing,  expect this strike to be settled in short order. The entire project’s expected to cost $75 billion, so haggling over what would probably cost much less than one percent (that’s $750 million, for those of you who aren’t mathologists) seems to be more of a case study in reckless project management than fiscal responsibility.