DOHA: International trade unionists inspecting the plight of migrant labor in Qatar Thursday urged immediate “bolder” steps by the 2022 football World Cup host country to protect workers, mostly Asians.
Evidence has shown that a “decent work deficit remains widespread and a climate of fear persists,” said a statement from the Building and Wood Worker’s International (BWI) federation, whose 18-member team Thursday concluded a four-day mission to the gas-rich state. The situation is “not acceptable,” it said.
The team of inspectors from nine European and two Asian countries found “disturbing evidence of wrong practices and gathered testimonies about the violations of internationally accepted norms of labor standards,” the statement said.
The mission met many workers from Nepal, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines who spoke of the lack of medical care and their inability to lodge official complaints.
Current measures by the Qatari authorities to protect foreign workers “are insufficient to address the overarching structural problems,” said BWI.
“Bolder steps are needed now, not in the future.”
Qatar has come under mounting pressure to end exploitation of migrant workers as it embarks on a multibillion-dollar construction program for the 2022 football World Cup.
“Plans and reforms presented by the authorities lack the urgency needed in this situation,” the statement said.
Britain’s the Guardian last month said 44 Nepalese workers had died on World Cup construction sites in Qatar.
The International Trade Union Confederation has slammed as “weak and disappointing” Qatar’s response to media claims that Nepalese workers were treated as slaves.
The head of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, Ali al-Marri, last week admitted there were some problems but denied claims of Nepalese being treated like “slaves.”
The labour minister’s undersecretary, Hussein al-Mullah, told the delegation that companies in Qatar had met “99 percent of the [local] labor code,” insisting that the government intervened when workers complained.
But the BWI said that “while there are workplaces that are better off, it does not imply that the situation is the same in the whole country.”
Principles of the “Workers’ Charter” of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, the body organizing the World Cup chaired by the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, are “not well defined, do not refer to internationally recognized standards, and do not include workers’ rights or trade union rights,” it said.
The ITUC lodged a complaint in March with the Labor Ministry against six Qatari companies after being contacted by workers.
The union body says Qatar’s Labor Ministry received 6,000 worker complaints in 2012, while the Indian Embassy there received 1,500 in the first five months of this year.
Among these are false promises made to workers, employer obligations on wages and working conditions not being met, contracts not respected, passports withheld, workers being indebted to recruiters or moneylenders and workers forced to live in crowded squalid camps.
“These workers have no constructive mechanism for filing labor disputes and complaints due to the complexity of the judicial system in Qatar,” said the BWI.
The report made several recommendations, including prohibiting employers from confiscating passports and banning illegal recruitment fees, while abolishing the controversial kafala (sponsorship) system in Gulf states which opens the door to many abuses.
Qatar must also create “an effective dispute system” or “labor court” to address complaints and sanction companies and individuals violating laws protecting workers’ rights, it said.
Rights committee chief Marri admitted the kafala system posed “challenges” but said the issue was being re-examined. He added Qatar was forming a committee, which would include 50 representatives of foreign workers, to “set foundations for union freedoms.”
The BWI delegation was Wednesday denied access to a construction site they tried to inspect in a surprise visit.
In response, the team, gave up a visit to the major Lusail site, 70 kilometers north of Doha, where the main stadium for the World Cup will be built.