Olympics: Russia rejects Sochi workers abuse claims

Russia on Wednesday dismissed a rights watchdog's report that workers building sites for the Winter Olympic Games next year in the resort of Sochi were abused and cheated out of their wages.

Human Rights Watch said in a new report that many workers from post-Soviet nations had their passports confiscated and worked 12-hour shifts with few days off as the Kremlin raced to finish Olympic construction with one year to go until the 2014 Games.

Russian authorities issued an unusually swift, choreographed response to the report, making the usually tight-lipped officials in charge of migration and labour inspection available for interviews.

Eduard Bidzhakov, head of the migration service for Sochi, said that even if some workers' rights might have been violated on occasion, abuses were not systematic as claimed by HRW.

"It's a made-up issue," Bidzhakov told AFP, insisting that the report was not representative enough. "You have to compare the number of those polled with the total number of workers."

As of last year, 16,000 workers from outside Russia were employed on Olympic construction sites, Bidzhakov said.

The New York-based rights watchdog said its study was based on interviews with 66 migrants working at the sites from 2009 through 2012, with the report's authors speaking of "serious, consistent reports from workers on several of the major Olympic sites."

Olympstroi, the state agency overseeing Olympic projects, insisted that it was committed to supporting workers' rights.

It said in a statement it had conducted more than 1,300 checks between 2011 and 2012, finding that violations of safety standards were among the most frequent transgressions.

Between 2011 and 2012 the agency received five complaints from workers about wages and that all of them were addressed, it added.