By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
BEIJING, Jan. 28 -- Six workers have died helping to build venues for this summer's Olympic Games, including two who worked at Beijing's celebrated "bird's nest" stadium, a top work safety official said Monday.
The announcement followed a British news report last week that alleged a coverup of worker fatalities at Olympic sites. The report accused site managers and police of ordering construction teams to remain silent about incidents in which workers plummeted to their deaths from the capital's National Stadium, an intricate steel-laced structure that resembles a bird's nest.
Chinese authorities denied that 10 workers had died, as a Jan. 20 story in the Sunday Times of London alleged, but promised an investigation.
On Monday, Ding Zhenkuan, deputy chief of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Work Safety, told reporters that there had been two workplace deaths at the National Stadium, one in 2006 and one in 2007. He said there had been six workplace deaths in total but did not elaborate.
"We have properly compensated the families, reported the accidents to the construction community and seriously punished those responsible," Ding said.
About 17,000 workers have been building more than 30 competition venues for the Olympics, which are to begin Aug. 8. Most are migrant workers who form an essential but sometimes overlooked underclass in China's cities. They work menial jobs for long hours, often with only oral promises that they will be paid.
Fatalities are not unusual in stadium construction, and more than 100,000 Chinese die in workplace accidents each year, often after businesses overwork employees or do without safety precautions. High-profile accidents have alarmed the Communist Party; last week, senior government officials asked the public and news media to help expose cases in which local officials or businesses take bribes or otherwise cut corners on workplace safety.
China is under intense international scrutiny ahead of the Games, and activists involved with issues including labor rights and the environment are using the run-up to the two-week event as an opportunity to pressure the Communist Party.
On Monday, the Free Tibet Campaign said Prince Charles had informed the group that he would decline any invitations to the Games. Neither the group nor the Prince of Wales offered an explanation, but Charles is a longtime friend of the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing regards as an irritant because of his efforts to promote greater autonomy for Tibet.
In Beijing, Wang Hui, a spokeswoman for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, said that she had not heard the report about Charles but that Chinese authorities "consider any boycotts of the Olympic Games to be unfair."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Bush both have said they would attend the Games.