QATAR: World Cup Flub on Workers’ Rights

ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES- A corruption scandal is still brewing  in international soccer, but it’s business as usual for Qatar, and the country’s top priority is making sure their chance to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup goes off without a hitch. Even if it means bumping into a few hitches with migrant workers along the way who, like Egyptian laborers of ancient times, are the human fodder erecting the pyramid to be called the World Cup Stadium.

Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL) recently published a report on migrant workers’ welfare from April through December of last year. Although the report highlighted several benefits, human rights groups continue to criticize the treatment of workers during the past year

The SCDL report is part of an investigation into construction firms to ensure that standards have improved in areas such as labor conditions, payment, and workers’ accommodations.

The report mentioned six injuries and two deaths that occurred in the past year. One involved a painter working on the World Cup Stadium who went into cardiac arrest during lunch. The second was a truck driver who suffered a heart attack in his accommodation. Both were migrant workers from India. They received medical attention and died in a hospital.

In January 2016, Human Rights Watch published World Report 2016, which reviews human rights practices from 2015. World Report 2016 asserts that labor reforms have failed to help migrant workers and have not addressed some of the more severe problems of the kafala system, Qatar’s worker-sponsorship program.

The Qatari emir issued reforms to the system in October of 2015, but workers must still obtain a “no objection certificate” if they want to transfer legally to another employer. Workers must also obtain an exit permit from their employer in order to leave the country and can go to grievance committee if an employer denies the request, but Human Rights Watch adds that arbitrary restrictions remain in place. The report also noted that the new laws exclude domestic workers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

Last year in November, Amnesty International argued that the reforms to the kafala system were insufficient. Late payments had been a common complaint amongst workers, and the organization criticized Qatar for delaying the passing of a law requiring businesses to pay workers on time by direct bank deposit from February to October. Other reforms won’t come into force until the end of 2016. Amnesty International also noted that workers still need consent from their employer to switch jobs and leave the country, and the organization called on FIFA to monitor Qatar and push workers’ rights.

The SCDL maintains that there has been progress and that Qatar is indeed concerned for migrant workers. The committee’s general secretary, Hassan Al Thawadi said, “Ensuring the health, safety, security and dignity of every individual working on delivering the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar is of the utmost importance for the Supreme Committee,” and added that the SCDL will publish annual reports detailing their efforts at improving the working conditions of migrant workers.

The small number of deaths and injuries may be a sign of progress, but Qatar hasn’t been exactly crystal clear about the death toll. Qatar condemned The Washington Post when it reported that 1,200 workers have died on World Cup sites. Other estimates are around a thousand but include fatalities from non-World Cup related projects. Whatever the death toll is on World Cup sites, no one knows.

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