11 August 2012     

Going for gold

By Lynda Walker

The Olympic organisers and some of the corporate sponsors have come under the spotlight, and it is a question as to who will win the gold medal for corporate greed.
     Coming a close first are Next, the Olympic clothes suppliers to Team GB and workers at the stadiums. The NEXT web site boasts: “Everyone at NEXT is thrilled to be playing a part in the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympics Games.” Their workers do not see it that way. The GMB reported that Next had advertised for apprentices for £2.60-an-hour warehouse jobs for 16 to 17-year-olds, and £6.08 for over-21s—the national minimum wage. Next are revealing bumper profits in the first six months of this year, predicting £600 million by the end of this year. Lord Wolfson, who heads the Next “Olympic Team,” has a take-home pay of £800,000 a year: £3,000 per day.
     The Olympics also lists Atos as a “worldwide partner.” Atos is the private company that operates the Medical Referee Service and assessments. This service was previously delivered by the public sector but was privatised in 2010. Atos was recently the subject of two documentaries by BBC “Panorama” and Channel 4 “Dispatches.” Atos have won the multi-million-pound government contract to deliver the UK-wide “work capability assessment” (WCA) service.
     In Belfast last week a number of community-based welfare rights and women’s groups, together with the trade unions, organised a protest outside Royston House, the offices of Atos. The protest was concerned about the operations of Atos and similar private companies making a profit from welfare reform and the privatisation of the Medical Referee Service. They consider this to be the introduction of an unacceptable regime for assessing disabled claimants.
     Speaking at the protest, Pamela Dooley, chairperson of Unison and of the ICTU, said: “It is a disgrace that disabled people have to travel thirty miles to Ballymena for examination. Since the service was privatised disabled clients have not been able to be examined at Royston House, because the private company, Atos, claim they cannot facilitate evacuation in the case of an emergency.” Regarding the Welfare Reform Bill, Ms Dooley said new assessment criteria for disability benefits have made it much more difficult for disabled people to obtain and retain the relevant benefits.
     In Britain, 1,500 members of the Atos work force in the PCS have voted overwhelmingly for strike action in demand for a living wage.
     Adam Lotun, spokesperson for Disabled People Against the Cuts in Britain, told the Morning Star: “We would question the International Olympics Committee as to how they allowed Atos to become a sponsor.” Unity reinforces the view that “the fact that Atos are using profits from the WCA process—paid for by the taxpayer—to raise the corporate profile is abhorrent.”
     Lots more could be written, like for example the fact that a hot dog there cost nearly as much as the hourly rate that is being paid, and the fact Visa had a monopoly on the ATAs and that protests were held against the slave wages of Adidas. But you would not want to be a spoilsport, would you?

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