“Employers in Qatar are out of control. They are flagrantly breaking the law and exploiting workers – and the Qatari government is turning a blind eye.”
By the Trades Union Congress (TUC)
The TUC has today (Saturday November 19th) warned that Qatar’s World Cup legacy risks being left “in tatters” without wholesale changes to protect workers.
The warning comes as the union body publishes a new report detailing widespread labour abuses in Qatar, ahead of the kick off of the World Cup this weekend.
Shocking testimonies from migrant workers reveal extensive exploitation such as unpaid wages, poverty pay, forced labour, illegal recruitment, and limited access to justice.
A shameful history of worker exploitation
The vast majority of Qatar’s labour force is made up of migrant workers (about 95 per cent).
Following the successful World Cup bid in 2010, Qatar has faced vociferous criticism for its treatment of workers. Thousands of migrant workers have died in the country since 2010, but Qatar has refused to carry out proper investigations into the cause of many of the deaths.
In recent years, relentless union campaigning secured significant improvements in Qatar on workers’ rights.
This included the introduction of the minimum wage, vital health and safety protections and the removal of the need for permission to leave a job (effectively abolishing the kafala system which trapped workers in jobs).
These reforms led Qatar and Fifa to claim that the World Cup would leave a lasting legacy of better workers’ rights in the country and the region.
But the TUC says the country’s feeble enforcement regime leaves workers’ rights “illusory” and allows rogue employers to ride roughshod over any existing worker protections.
“Out of control” employers
Employers in Qatar are “out of control” and the Qatari government is “turning a blind eye” to labour abuses, the TUC has today warned.
The union body says its interviews with 25 workers and wider research in Qatar has found that serious exploitation is still prevalent in the country’s labour market. The report has found that:
- Poverty pay is still rife despite the recent introduction of a minimum wage. The current minimum wage is far too low.
- Wage theft – the late or non-payment of wages – is rampant.
- Overtime pay is often flouted by employers with many workers paid the same or less than the basic rate for overtime. Almost all low-paid workers rely on overtime work to top-up their basic wage.
- Eye-watering recruitment fees which burden workers with huge debts are common. Migrant workers pay these fees to agents in their own country to secure their jobs in Qatar. This illegal practice remains pervasive and deeply entrenched – workers told the TUC that recruitment fees they pay today are higher than ever.
- Workers are trapped in jobs – and in the worst cases, subject to forced labour. Every low-wage worker interviewed for the TUC report said it was very difficult or impossible to change jobs, despite the recent abolition of the ‘kafala’ system.
- There is limited access to justice for workers who are exploited by their employers.
Keeping up appearances
The TUC has accused Qatar of “keeping up appearances” for the World Cup at the expense of workers.
The union body highlights the Qatari order to abruptly wind down construction projects ahead of the World Cup which left many workers “massively out of pocket”.
Thousands of workers were sent home against their wishes, saddled with huge recruitment debts still to pay off.
Qatar’s capital Doha has grown at an astonishing rate since the country won the bid to host the World Cup in 2010. At one point, Qatar was spending $500 million a week on infrastructure related to the World Cup.
The construction of infrastructure has overwhelmingly been carried out by its migrant workforce.
But many of the workers interviewed for the report explicitly say that the World Cup has done nothing for them, and that they are disappointed that it is being held in Qatar given its poor treatment of workers.
UK must pull its weight
As well as labour abuses, Qatar has faced mounting criticism for its position on human rights, women’s rights and LGBT rights in recent weeks.
The TUC is calling on the UK government to pull its weight on the global stage and put pressure on Qatar – starting with its trade talks with the Gulf States.
The TUC says ministers must “do the right thing” and walk away from trade talks with the Gulf States, until they start respecting fundamental workers’ rights and human rights, including women’s and LGBT rights.
In Qatar, a first step would be ensuring that freedom of association and the right to join a union are recognised, and that women and LGBT people do not face discrimination and harassment.
To protect workers from exploitation, the TUC is calling on Qatar to:
- Raise the minimum wage in consultation with global unions
- Massively increase its enforcement efforts – Qatar needs more inspectors, more unannounced inspections, and more power for inspectors to sanction companies.
- Support the creation of a migrant workers’ centre so workers have a safe place to bring their cases, generate independent data on workers’ rights and conditions and work with enforcement bodies to target the worst employers
- Make the new joint worker committees compulsory for all companies, and commit to them being the first steps to fully respecting all the fundamental ILO conventions and allowing workers to form and join trade unions to finally give workers the ability to defend their own interests
- Drop its objections to receiving additional funds from FIFA to expand the compensation fund and remedy the harms suffered by workers in the many years when Qatar was refusing to reform its labour laws and actively contributing to their exploitation.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Employers in Qatar are out of control. They are flagrantly breaking the law and exploiting workers – and the Qatari government is turning a blind eye.
“Relentless union campaigning recently secured some much-needed protections for workers. But Qatar’s feeble enforcement system means many of these rights are illusory.
“Too many workers are left at the mercy of bad bosses, who trample all over their rights with no repercussions.
“Unpaid wages, forced labour, debt traps, and poverty pay – these are just some of the abuses that are all too common.
“The World Cup saw billions poured into Qatar. But that money has lined the pockets of greedy bosses – not the workers who built the infrastructure.
“With the World Cup just days away, it’s time we saw a concerted effort to make sure workers are protected and can enforce their rights.
“Qatar’s claim of a positive World Cup legacy on workers’ rights will be in tatters unless it takes urgent action to protect workers.”
On the UK government, Frances added:
“The UK government must pull its weight on the global stage to put pressure on Qatar – starting with trade talks with the Gulf States.
“There is no good reason for a trade deal with the Gulf States when human rights, women’s and LGBT rights and labour rights abuses are so widespread.
“Ministers should do the right thing and walk away from negotiations until fundamental rights are respected.”
- This article was originally published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on November 19th, 2022.
- The TUC report “I have nothing” – Workers’ rights and the Qatar 2022 World Cup can be found here.
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