Qatar faces reaction over migrant labour abuse

Updated 27 Sep 2013


An advertisement for the 15th Asian Games towers over workers in Doha on November 28, 2006. — Photo AFP
An advertisement for the 15th Asian Games towers over workers in Doha on November 28, 2006. — Photo AFP

BRUSSELS: The International Trade Union Confederation is pushing FIFA to press for changes in Qatari labor laws because it says at least 4,000 migrant workers could die in the extreme heat as they build facilities for the 2022 World Cup.

ITUC Secretary General Sharan Burrow said in an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday that instead of working to improve the plight of the Asian migrants, FIFA was in ''a conspiracy'' with the Qatari authorities to maintain a status quo.

''If FIFA really were serious, then their power to hold the World Cup with decent work or to withdraw it would be enough for the Qataris to sit down and talk,'' she said.

FIFA said Thursday it was ''very concerned'' about reports ''regarding labor rights' abuses and the conditions for construction workers'' working on the 2022 World Cup project at Lusail City.

''FIFA will again get in contact with the Qatari authorities and the matter will also be discussed at the Executive Committee meeting'' on Oct. 3-4, football's world governing body said in a statement.

The FIFA board session next week could decide ''in principle'' that the 2022 tournament cannot be played in the Qatari summer, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has suggested.

Burrow said FIFA had promised after a November 2011 meeting to do something about the labour conditions within six months.

''They failed,'' she said.

Burrow wrote in a Sep. 20 letter to Blatter that ''several hundred migrant construction workers die each year in Qatar'' where they often work in extreme heat. Burrow spoke of 1.2 million migrant workers in Qatar, many laboring in extreme heat long hours, little pay and without legal protection.

In the interview, she said that the construction of stadiums, hotels and other facilities would easily add to that. Without changes in the labor conditions, ''the minimum estimation, the very conservative estimation from our side is that 4,000 workers will die before a ball is kicked,'' she said. The ITUC is a global trade union group uniting 178 million workers in 156 countries

Nepal ambassador in hot water

The Nepalese goverment in response has recalled its ambassador in Qatar on Thursday after she called the Gulf state an “open jail” for Nepalis who suffer labour abuses, and amid outrage about labour conditions and deaths as the emirate prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.

Maya Kumari Sharma's remarks were made about six months ago in an interview but only attracted attention this week after they were reprinted in a report by Britain's Guardian newspaper that documented the deaths of dozens of Nepali workers in Qatar over the summer.

A cabinet meeting decided to sack Sharma after Qatar complained about her comments, officials said. Sharma was appointed last year by the Maoist-led government.

“The government has decided to recall the ambassador as her comments and behaviour went out of the diplomatic norms,” Bimal Gautam, an aide to the chairman of interim cabinet Khilraj Regmi, told Reuters.

Millions of Nepalis are employed in Malaysia, South Korea and the Middle East, including Qatar. Migrant remittances account for about a fifth of Nepal's gross domestic product.

The Guardian report, published on Wednesday, said thousands of Nepalese workers were enduring labour abuses as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.

The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee said in a statement that government authorities were investigating the allegations, which have shone an unfavorable spotlight on its preparations for the world's biggest sporting event after the summer Olympic Games.

Qatar was awarded the World Cup three years ago in a surprise decision. The tiny Gulf state is now in a race against time to complete an extensive amount of infrastructure work.