Shocking abuse of Qatar’s migrant workers
Monday 22nd September 2014
STEVE MURPHY spotlights the disgraceful treatment of construction workers in the richest country in the world
THE abuse of migrant construction workers in Qatar is appalling. What makes this even more disturbing is that Qatar is the richest country on the planet.
There are 1.4 million migrant workers in Qatar, the majority of whom come from the Indian subcontinent — Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal.
When I visited Qatar this spring the experiences and the living conditions of the workers I met shocked me to the core.
I met workers who were paid just 57p an hour and required to work 12-hour days, six days a week. In the summer months temperatures can reach 50°C.
Incredibly, even with the very low pay, workers often report being unpaid for months on end, which puts them in debt and means that they cannot send money to their families.
The safety and welfare of construction workers is a massive issue. In recent years over 1,200 construction workers from India and Nepal have died in Qatar.
In the majority of cases the cause of death for these young and fit workers has been attributed to “natural causes.” By recording deaths in this way, employers do not have to pay compensation to the workers’ families.
The living conditions of migrant workers are horrendous. I visited migrant labour camps where nine workers were forced to share a tiny room, where 200 workers were required to share just five toilets and where the workers were required to cook in filthy cockroach-infested kitchens.
In some camps there was not even access to drinking water and only salt water was provided.
The biggest problem in Qatar is the kafala system, a form of modern-day slavery. Workers have to be sponsored by an employer to enter the country and have no rights of their own.
The employer controls everything about their time in the country, including when they can leave.
The minimum time before a worker can leave is two years, however workers report that often they have to stay far longer because the employer denies them permission to go home. In many cases, and despite it being illegal, the worker is forced to give the employer their passport.
Earlier this year Qatar announced that it intended to reform the kafala system. This is a sham — the simple truth is you can’t reform slavery, it has to be abolished.
Migrant workers do not have any kind of employment rights and freedom of association and collective bargaining are banned.
The campaign to highlight the shocking abuse of migrant workers took a sinister turn earlier this month.
Two British nationals Krishna Upahyaya and Ghmire Gundev were in Qatar investigating the abuse of Nepalese migrant workers.
They were arrested on September 1 by the Qatari security services and held until September 10 when, thanks to international pressure, they were released.
British companies are already operating in Qatar. Balfour Beatty, Carillion and Laing O’Rourke all have contracts in the country and it is inevitable that further contracts will be awarded to British companies in the future.
There is nothing preventing British construction companies being involved in the exploitation of migrant workers on their sites.
Unless Qatar dramatically improves the way it treats migrant workers, deaths and exploitation are set to increase in the coming years when Qatar’s construction boom is further fuelled as preparations for the World Cup in 2022 begin in earnest.
While the World Cup presents fresh problems it also contains opportunities. Qatar is desperate to host the World Cup in order to boost its global image.
This is why maximum pressure needs to be applied to Fifa, to force Qatar to dramatically improve its treatment of migrant workers.
In order not to lose the right to host the World Cup Qatar needs to ensure:
The complete abolition of the kafala system
Migrant workers have the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining
Independent labour inspections
Occupational health and safety standards to meet international standards
An effective labour disputes system
Decent living conditions
Qatar should be given 12 months to clean up their act. If they are unable or unwilling to do so Fifa should strip them of the World Cup.
Qatar must understand that the World Cup cannot be played in stadiums soaked in workers’ blood.
Steve Murphy is General Secretary of construction union Ucatt.
Delegates and visitors at Labour Party Conference can find out more about the abuse of migrant workers in Qatar by visiting Ucatt’s stall number 45.
The Fifa executive committee member Theo Zwanziger has broken ranks to claim that, in his opinion, the 2022 World Cup finals will not be held in Qatar because of extreme temperatures in the Gulf state: here.