Improving conditions for migrant construction workers in Qatar

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has told Qatar’s emir that the 2022 World Cup host nation must do more to improve working conditions for migrant construction workers (read the Herald article here).

There are currently anywhere between 700,000 and one million migrant workers building Qatar’s World Cup stadiums (and other mega projects), out of a total population of 2.3 million. Qatar aims to double the number of migrant labourers to 2.5 million by 2020.

Qatar has been under fire for its labour record. At least 185 Nepalese workers died in 2013 alone – many from workplace accidents. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also called for reformation of Qatar’s kafala sponsorship system, which enables employers to prevent foreign workers from leaving the country or changing jobs, through tactics such as confiscating passports and withholding exit visas. There are reports that many migrant workers have not been paid for months, or may have had salaries retained to prevent them running away.

In the last year, World Cup organisers introduced mandatory welfare obligations for contractors called Workers’ Welfare Standards. These are contractually binding rules for all contractors engaged on World Cup projects, integrated into the tendering process and ultimately into the signed contracts. These standards are intended to play an important role in the technical evaluation of bids, requiring a workers’ welfare compliance plan and a baseline assessment of working and living conditions on existing projects. Penalties for non-compliance include payment delay, rectification at the contractor’s cost, contract termination, and blacklisting.

There is some concern that these standards will only benefit workers listed as working specifically on stadiums, and not for example the hundreds of thousands of workers engaged on infrastructure projects underpinning development. Further, the standards have not been incorporated into Qatari labour law. There is some progress, in that Qatar is instituting payment reform. Payments will have to be made by direct bank transfer, with pay rounds at least monthly and in some cases fortnightly.

FIFA has made it clear that a ‘collective effort’ to lift welfare standards is also required from construction companies operating in Qatar. It remains to be seen whether the World Cup will be a ‘catalyst for positive social change’, as mooted by Blatter, over the next seven years (or longer, with a potential bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics in the pipeline).

To read more click the following links: ‘Blatter says Qatar has more to do on labour rights’, ‘Qatar commits to new welfare standards for World Cup workers’, ‘Qatar to introduce pay reform for migrant workers’.

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