London 2012: Olympics employee quits in row over hours

From Monday thousands of athletes begin arriving at the Olympic Village and they will be looked after by newly recruited workers.

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A paid Olympics employee has quit and accused London 2012 bosses of exploitation in a dispute over working hours.

Sam Cowan agreed to manage volunteers running buses in the athletes village for a £500 weekly wage, working at least five eight-hour days a week.

She was later told to expect longer shifts, totalling 60 hours a week.

Locog said its policies were clear and 12-hour shifts, five days a week were not unusual at Games time.

Ms Cowan, of Redbridge, was due to begin her role on Friday but returned her uniform to the organisers on Thursday.

She said she felt "very disposable" after no compromise could be reached.

'Feeling exploited'

The 40-year-old, who works as a freelance writer and teaches yoga, applied for the job in September and was given the role in December.

Start Quote

If the hours are unsuitable for her, then withdrawing before she started her role was the right thing to do”

End Quote London 2012

Her contract stipulated she would be doing a minimum of eight hours per day, five days out of seven each week but would get no extra pay for overtime or travel expenses.

Ms Cowan said she had overheard a line manager talking about longer shifts while she was doing her training.

She added: "When just by accident I overheard a line manager mentioning a six-day week to a fellow colleague I had to interrupt and said I am down to do a five-day week.

"The line manager said 'no no you are all doing 10-hour shifts six times a week' and I was like, 'but that's not what I was told' and one or two other people echoed me."

She made several complaints and tried to come to a compromise but claimed Games officials would not budge.

London 2012 - One extraordinary year

London 2012 One extraordinary year graphic

Ms Cowan said: "I felt very disappointed and let down... it was a gradual decision to say no.

"Then I just felt that I will be going in there feeling exploited.

"It feels like they don't have the employees at the heart of what they are doing... It feels almost like I am very disposable."

In a statement, London 2012 said: "Our workforce is working hard to deliver the Games.

"Twelve-hour shifts, five days a week are not unusual at Games time and our policies are very clear and careful to explain how this will be handled.

"Ms Cowan is an agency staff worker who had not yet started her role.

"If the hours are unsuitable for her, then withdrawing before she started her role was the right thing to do."

However Ms Cowan said she was one of Locog's 6,000 paid employees and not agency staff and that it had contracted Adecco to deal with recruitment.

She added that Locog was trying to "distance" itself from the problem.

David Samuels, an employment solicitor with Bird & Bird LLP, said: "A 50% increase in her expected working hours is certainly quite a lot but is not necessarily illegal... it's quite common to work a small number of hours greater than advertised in the contract.

"Whilst not illegal but perhaps the practice is a bit misleading and therefore it's not necessarily an example of good employee relations and one might think that the Olympics will want to be seen as setting a good example in that regard," he added.

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