Workers go on strike at delayed World Cup stadium
Workers went on strike over late pay at one of the stadiums enduring the longest delays ahead of the World Cup in Brazil, officials said Saturday.
The work stoppage happened in the southern city of Curitiba, where world champion Spain is expected to be based during football's showcase event next year.
Curitiba Mayor Gustavo Fruet said about one-third of the stadium's 1,200 workers took part in the strike that lasted up to three days this week. He said protesting workers blocked a city avenue for about an hour on Friday.
''There was a delay of the payment and there was a strike,'' he said.
The deadline for Curitiba's stadium has already been pushed back to mid-February because of construction delays that officials said resulted from belated financing. The stadium belongs to Brazilian first division club Atletico Paranaense and is undergoing extensive renovation to host matches in next year's World Cup.
Mauro Holzmann, the club's marketing and communications chief, downplayed the labor unrest.
He claimed that only 150 workers were involved and they only downed tools for two hours on Friday. He also said their pay was just one day late and that the labor contractor has since been paid. He didn't know, however, if the contractor had relayed the payment to the workers.
''It won't happen again. It was just a little misunderstanding,'' Holzmann said.
A group of workers taking a break in the stadium said they were owed one month's pay. They said they would down tools again next week if the money promised to them doesn't arrive.
The Arena da Baixada will host four World Cup matches, including Australia vs. Spain on June 23. The Curitiba stadium is expected to hold its first test game in February, two months after the original deadline established by FIFA for stadium delivery.
Officials said it took longer than expected to put together the stadium's complex financing.
''It was just red tape, Brazilian bureaucracy,'' Holzmann said. ''A state development bank loan originally expected in June 2012 was seven months late.''
Atletico Paranaense, which finished third in this year's Brazilian league, is funding one third of the renovation costs, with the rest coming from state and city governments. The renovation was expected to cost about $80 million but is now budgeted at almost $115 million.
The pitch has not been laid or even flattened, with mounds of earth and gravel still in place. Most of the seats haven't been installed, the roof isn't finished and VIP boxes have no glass or fittings.
Organizers recently gave up on installing a retractable roof that was in the original design. FIFA made the request to remove the roof from the World Cup project because it would not be finished in time and would delay the overall construction.
In early October, a Brazilian labor judge halted work at the Arena da Baixada for nearly a week because of safety concerns.
In the World Cup stadium in the jungle city of Manaus, where on Saturday a worker fell to his death and another died of an apparent heart attack outside the venue, a local union threatened to start a strike on Monday to complain about inadequate conditions offered to laborers.
In Curitiba and Cuiaba, another World Cup city with an overdue stadium, journalists who visited this week were subjected to the somewhat surreal experience of being shown presentations that bore scant resemblance to the reality outside.
At Cuiaba's stadium, officials showed slides of a beautifully green pitch, VIP lounges with comfy seats and a landscaped exterior. But in reality the newly seeded pitch is a muddy field, the stadium has no seats and its surroundings are still red earth turning gooey with the onset of the rainy season.
AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.
Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester