Olympics-Cleaners gather from around globe for Games

LONDON, July 18 Wed Jul 18, 2012 11:42am EDT

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LONDON, July 18 (Reuters) - When the Olympic Games begin in London next week, it won't just be the best athletes from around the world who will have descended upon the British capital.

A small army of cleaners, nearly all students, have flown in from equally far-flung countries to play their part in the Games and earn some money at the same time.

While athletes and officials stay in a brand new Olympic Village, these cleaners will live in "Camp Cleanevent", a compound on the site of a former scrap metal merchant with about 100 temporary cabins, each sleeping 10 people in bunk beds.

The camp is surrounded by a warehouses, a canal full of rusting wrecks, and a busy road, but its occupants are cheerfully determinedly to look on the bright side.

"I like this camp, I like being here, so I think London is a nice place. I like working in the Olympic Games," said one cleaner, a 21-year-old medical student from Hungary.

"I think the camp is good because there are a lot of new people who I've met, but it is a bit crowded."

The recruits have come from far and wide to join the massive cleaning operation for the Games.

Many are from Hungary and Spain, with others from across Europe and beyond. Flags from France, New Zealand, and the United States flutter above the cabins.

CORRUGATED IRON

The compound made the news in Britain this week when the Daily Mail newspaper said some of the arrivals had described it as a prison camp or a slum, with one shower for every 75 people.

The camp's corrugated iron gates, barbed wire and battered sign reading "J Collins, Scrap metal merchant" does seem a world away from the gleaming Olympic stadium and the 22 million pound ($34 million) Orbit Tower.

But while the temporary cabins might have been unexpected, the spartan accommodation did not seem a major surprise for those heading off to work at the Olympic Park on Wednesday.

"They told me we were going to live 10 people per room so I didn't expect any big room. I think it's ok to live (here) for a month," said a 19-year-old business studies student from Spain.

"If it's wet it gets really, really dirty. It's uncomfortable to have a shower because you can get dirty when you come back to your room."

But if some were dissatisfied, he said: "I think their expectations were too high."

Like others at the site, he did not want to give his name in case he lost his job, while others cited a confidentiality clause in their contract. For most, the pay offsets any reservations about living conditions.

The cleaners get over 8 pounds ($12.40) an hour, well above Britain's national minimum wage of 6.19 pounds for adults or 4.98 pounds for those aged 18 to 20, along with three meals a day, and free transport to venues.

"BETTER THAN SPAIN"

"It's better paid than in Spain," the business studies student added. "It's not that easy to find a job with that salary for cleaning."

The rent, however, is 18 pounds a day, or about 550 pounds a month, roughly the cost of renting a one-room apartment.

When it gave permission for the compound, Newham Council, the local authority, acknowledged there had been concern at the quality of the accommodation, but said it met all relevant standards.

Craig Lovett, chief executive of Spotless International Services, the firm employing the cleaners which has now worked on eight Olympics, was clearly riled by the Mail's article.

"You assemble a workforce of 3,600 people and sometimes some people are not going to be happy. It's not a prison, people can leave any time they want to," he told Reuters.

"There's enough in the press about people who can't put a workforce together, we certainly know how to put a workforce together," he added in a dig at the security firm G4S, which has failed to recruit enough guards for the Olympic venues.

For many of the foreign students his firm has hired, the chance to be in London for what is often described as the greatest sporting show on earth outweighs all other concerns.

"I came here to be a cleaner and live next to the Olympic Park," one 22-year-old Hungarian student said. "That's enough for me." ($1 = 0.6422 British pounds) (Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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