Tue, Dec 03, 2013 - Page 6 News List

No change for World Cup workers in Qatar

NO LET-UP:The International Trade Union Confederation said the living and working conditions of migrant construction workers have not been bettered despite protests

The Guardian, LONDON

The appalling conditions faced by thousands of migrant workers building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar have not improved despite a growing outcry, according to the International Trade Union Confederation [ITUC].

Human rights organizations, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the European Parliament have raised concerns about the plight of migrant workers in Qatar after an investigation revealed a rising toll of death, disease and misery at its World Cup construction sites.

However, after a four-day visit to the country by an ITUC delegation, the organization’s general-secretary, Sharan Burrow, said they had found “no improvement in living and working conditions” of migrant workers.

“This is an easy choice for the Qatari government. The perplexing question is, why won’t they take it? Professional and poor workers alike tell the same stories; they came to Qatar with optimism and goodwill, only to face despair when their employer decides they are disposable and refuses to pay wages, sacks them without benefits, and/or refuses to sign their exit permit,” she said.

Burrow said that during the visit the 11-member delegation held worker hearings and were shocked by “tales of terror,” stories increasing numbers of women and children in detention centers, and rising discontent and unrest in workers in “squalid labor camps.”

“What we’ve seen this week can be summarized as how not to design a system for the global workforce on any basis: human and labor rights; goodwill and international reputation or; productivity based on loyalty and efficiency,” Burrow said.

“International companies should be on notice about the reputational risk of doing business in Qatar without respect for workers’ rights,” she said.

The plight of migrant workers in Qatar was first reported in September. An investigation revealed that 44 Nepalese workers died from June 4 to Aug. 8, about half from heart failure or workplace accidents.

Workers described being forced to work in 50?C heat without drinking water by employers, who withhold salaries for several months and retain their passports to prevent them leaving the country.

The investigation found that sickness was endemic, that conditions were frequently overcrowded and insanitary, and that many were going hungry.

The ITUC has warned that as many as 4,000 migrant workers could die before a ball is kicked in 2022.

“Fair working conditions with a lasting effect must be introduced quickly in Qatar,” FIFA has said.

The Qatari authorities have insisted they are being proactive and say the World Cup can be a catalyst for change.

“FIFA have called for the improvement of labor standards and an end to the kafala system [which requires migrants to have a sponsor for their visa]. They will report back in March 2014. We can only hope the government will make the right choice,” Burrow said.

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