An undocumented worker from Mali holding his access card to the Olympic construction site where he worked
Paris (AFP) - Gaye Sarambounou is used to toiling long days for a pittance. He’s a Malian living in France with no working papers, but it’s a situation that occurs around the world.
The difference here is that Sarambounou is one of an army of construction workers preparing next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.
The fact that France’s upcoming sporting showcase is being put together with the help of illegal workers is becoming a source of political and social tension.
For three months Sarambounou, 41, worked between eight- and 11-hour shifts for 80 euros per day.
Obviously, “overtime was never paid,” he said ruefully.
“I accepted because I know my situation. If you don’t have papers, you do all the hard work, all the crappy jobs. You have no choice,” he said as he boiled water on a stove on the floor of the tiny room he shares with four compatriots.
“Everyone knows what’s going on, but nobody talks about it”, said a smiling Sarambounou, who was kicked off an Olympic building site last year after a raid by labour inspectors.
Trade unionist Bernard Thibault, who co-chairs the Paris 2024 Social Charter Monitoring Committee says there is “a great deal of hypocrisy on the part of the political authorities”.
As a sign of the concern, the Labour Inspectorate has created a specialised unit that has been checking nearly one site a day for the past two years.
In June, nine irregular workers were identified on a site run by Solideo, the public company responsible for building facilities and infrastructure for the Olympics.
At the same time, a local public prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation into the “employment of foreigners without a permit in an organised gang”.
Solideo swiftly “took the necessary steps” by terminating the contract of the offending subcontractor but also of the construction giant that used it, said Antoine du Souich, the company’s strategy director.
Since then procedures have been tightened up, he assured, while admitting it’s impossible to set up a system “entirely impervious” to such fraud.
“All these beautiful stadiums are built by poor people… who are exploited,” said another Malian worker, who requested anonymity.
“It’s always 80 percent immigrants who do the work. You see Malians, Portuguese, Turks. And the French… in the offices!” he added.
The Malian workers want nothing more than to be regularised, so they don’t have to live in fear of an identity check.
The left-wing CGT union is preparing to submit an application for Sarambounou to receive his working papers.
If he gets those within 18 months, the recent hardships will seem like nothing more than a bad dream, he says.
“I’ll be legal for the Games!”