South Africa World Cup: Why stadium security guards are on strike

A South Africa World Cup strike over what security officers and stewards say are unpaid wages led local police to fire most workers and take over stadium security.

Guillermo Arias/AP
Security guards working on the South Africa's World Cup leave the Soccer City in Johannesburg, Tuesday, after being paid. Stadium stewards went on strike for better wages.

An increasingly bitter dispute over pay is threatening to tarnish the World Cup after police were forced to take over security from stewards at a fourth tournament stadium Tuesday night.

The first such takeover occurred Sunday night, after South African guards and stewards at the Moses Mabhida stadium claimed they were promised 500 South African rand ($65) for a 12-hour shift to cover the Germany vs. Australia match, but received only 190 rand ($25). Protests that night led to running battles with police, who fired tear gas at an estimated 400-strong crowd outside the Durban stadium.

The standoff led stadium management to call in the South African Police Service to run security at the arena, and to workers effectively being fired.

Since Sunday, the dispute has spread to stadiums in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and, last night, to Johannesburg’s Ellis Park, where 700 security staff went on strike before the Brazil vs. North Korea match.

No trickle-down?

The pay dispute is the most high-profile example of many South Africans' frustration that the wealth poured into the World Cup is not trickling down. FIFA, world soccer's organizing body, has refused to discuss the issue, referring questions to the South African police. Around 3,000 people marched in Durban today to protest the sackings and what they claim is lavish spending on the tournament in a country where around 40 percent of the population live on less than $2 a day.

Security at the four stadiums was being run by the Stallion Security Consortium, a little known private company which declined to comment. The company has tried to get strikers back to work and asked them to promise not to take industrial action again, but has not been successful. All the staff who worked as stewards and security guards have now been fired.

“This has all been very sad. Unfortunately, very few of the people affected have had permanent jobs and are all temporary, which makes it difficult to speak for them," said Robert Mashego, deputy president of the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, which has represented workers in the dispute, although few are members. “When the FIFA tournament is over on July 11, they won’t have a job anyway so it is difficult to settle a dispute like this.”

Police Col. Vish Naidoo said the decision to call in police was made between the police, FIFA, and the local organizing committee.

He refused to say how many officers were patrolling each ground but at Monday’s fixture between Italy and Paraguay around 1,000 officers were on patrol, a mixture of regular police and nearly qualified cadets.

Local organizing committee chief executive Danny Jordaan said the ongoing strikes were unacceptable and warned action could be taken to ensure the rest of the World Cup was not affected.

“This is an employer/employee wage dispute. Although we have respect for workers’ rights, we find it unacceptable for them to disrupt match-day proceedings and will not hesitate to take action in such instances,” he said.

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