As construction work begins on the first stadium for Qatar 2022 and ahead of a European Parliament hearing in Brussels on Thursday, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar (SCDLQ) has issued a press release regarding another worker’s charter – this one called “Workers’ Welfare Standards.”
The charter was immediately blasted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as reinforcing the system of forced labour in place in the oil-rich fiefdom and doing nothing to prevent further avoidable deaths of thousands of migrant labourers. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) was quick to issue a press release confirming that (contrary to impression given by Qatar’s press release) ILO comments, on the text “in particular concerning fundamental principles and rights at work, including freedom of association and collective bargaining, as well as the adoption of a minimum wage or a living wage, are not reflected in the current text.”
According to a report in the Guardian 185 workers from Nepal died on Qatari construction sites in 2013. This is from official figures and Nepalese make up only a 6th of workers in Qatar – so the true total, including of deaths and injuries to workers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and other countries may never be known.
As a result of the revelations, FIFA president Sepp Blatter promised football would not turn a blind eye, saying current labour rights in Qatar were unacceptable, and Hassan al-Thawadi, chief executive of the World Cup 2022 organising committee promised the tournament would not be built “on the blood of innocents.”
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke demanded the Qataris provide a “detailed report on the improvement of working conditions” by 12 February to outline the actions to be taken to end the slaughter and ensure worker’s rights were respected. Senior football officials have been moved to action as the ITUC says up to 4,000 workers could die on World Cup projects by 2022 if fundamental reforms are not instituted.
The press release by the SCDLQ claims that the new “50-page charter has been developed in conjunction with the International Labour Organisation.” However, following a query by this writer, the ILO issued a short press release clarifying that “the ILO was indeed requested by the Supreme Committee to provide comments on a draft version of the WWS in January 2014 and did so.“ However according to the ILO, despite some comments being taken into account, ”other ILO comments, in particular concerning fundamental principles and rights at work, including freedom of association and collective bargaining, as well as the adoption of a minimum wage or a living wage, are not reflected in the current text.”
Meanwhile the ITCU says “Qatar’s new World Cup worker welfare standards do not deliver fundamental rights for workers and merely reinforce the discredited kafala system of employer control over workers.”
According to the ITCU, forced labour continues in Qatar today, there are no workers’ rights and the kafala visa sponsorship system ties workers to their employers and migrant workers (the majority of the population in Qatar) are forbidden to join trade unions.
The “Worker’s Welfare Standards” document is, as a matter of fact, entirely focused on World Cup projects under the direction of the SCDLQ and indicates the Qatari authorities are not interested in extending even limited protections to migrant workers generally, but are engaged in a limited PR exercise to blunt criticism focused on World Cup venues.
According to the ITCU, “Not a single change has been made or recommended to Qatar’s laws that deny workers their fundamental rights. No workplace voice or representative is allowed for migrant workers in Qatar.”
Moreover, “The promise to provide freedom of movement for workers is a sham, as Qatar enforces segregation of workers on a racial basis.”
The new charter will apparently set up a new telephone hot line for worker complaints, but there is no information on “who will answer the phones, or the process as to how grievances will be handled.”
No system is being set up to “record deaths of workers or to ensure autopsies” in the massive new labour camps that will be set up for the 500,000 extra workers that Qatar says will be required to build the World Cup.
Astonishingly, the new document “has no reference to ‘heat’ in regard to working conditions in a country where workers toil in up to 50 degrees for half the year,” and moreover there appears to be no mechanism for enforcing any of the rights in the new charter, let alone prosecuting the guilty employers.
Not surprisingly the ITCU says “This charter is a sham for workers. It promises health and safety but provides no credible enforcement. It promises employment standards but gives migrant workers no rights to collectively bargain or join a trade union. It promises equality but does not provide a guarantee of a minimum wage.”
The ITCU says that if FIFA are serious about Qatar to hosting the World Cup in 2022 they will demand:
1) Freedom of association such that workers can be represented by those they choose
2) An end to the kafala.
3) Immediate steps to give workers the rights to negotiate wages and conditions and
4) Set up effective legal compliance through a tribunal system for complaints
In November the European Parliament urged FIFA “to send a clear and strong message to Qatar to prevent the preparations for the 2022 football World Cup being overshadowed by allegations of forced labor.”
With FIFA Executive Committee member Theo Zwanziger, who has described the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar as “one of the biggest mistakes ever in the history of sport,” and Zahir Belounis, who was stranded in Qatar after not being granted an exit visa by the government, both due to speak on the issue to the European Parliament later this week, the hosting of the World Cup by Qatar in the winter of 2022 must still be very much in the balance.
For updates on the 2022 World Cup and Qatar labour conditions follow the Football Rights website.