Contrary to pledges, Qatar’s alleged mistreatment of migrant workers continues
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Qatar to introduce laws to protect migrant workers, particularly from the country’s scorching heat.
“Qatari authorities should adopt and enforce adequate restrictions on outdoor work to protect the lives of migrant construction workers who are at risk from working in the country’s intense heat and humidity,” an HRW report said.
“The Qatari authorities’ failure to put in place the most basic protection from the heat, their decision to ignore recommendations that they investigate worker deaths and their refusal to release data on these deaths, constitute a wilful abdication of responsibility.”
The report followed an incident in which a Nepalese migrant worker was fired from his construction job after talking to a UN delegation investigating migrant worker conditions.
Agence France-Presse said the incident happened in March 2016 and led to the worker’s firing and deportation after he told the delegation about unpaid wages and his employer confiscating his passport.
The UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) said it would investigate the matter.
“The ILO has been following closely this case and continues to do so with a view to ensuring that the rights of this Nepalese worker are fully respected and protected,” said Corinne Vargha, director of the ILO’s International Labour Standards Department.
HRW called for transparency from Qatari authorities regarding deaths of migrant workers. The report said transparency issues made it difficult to assess whether the extreme weather conditions were a factor in the workers’ deaths.
“A 2014 report that the Qatari government commissioned from the international law firm DLA Piper noted that the number of worker deaths in Qatar attributed to cardiac arrest, a general term that does not specify cause of death, was ‘seemingly high,’” HRW said.
The report said Qatar failed to implement two of the law firm’s recommendations: Introducing laws allowing autopsies in cases of unexpected or sudden deaths and to commission an independent study into the number of migrant worker deaths attributed to cardiac arrests.
Al-Rayah, a Qatari newspaper, carried a statement from the country’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy stating: “Doha acknowledges the concerns raised by the watchdog” and that it was “committed to promoting and protecting the welfare, health and safety of all workers.” The statement did not address HRW’s main concerns.
Qatar’s road to hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup and its relationship with FIFA have been controversial since it won hosting duties in 2010. Pressure on Qatar increased in 2013 when Britain’s Guardian newspaper said dozens of Nepalese had died while working on World Cup-related projects. Qatari and Nepali officials denied the report.
In 2014 Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper alleged former FIFA Executive Committee member Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari who was president of the Asian Football Confederation, lobbied on behalf of his country for the 2022 rights, paying millions of dollars in cash, gifts and junkets, especially to African officials.
Qatar is also involved in a dispute with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, which have cut ties with Doha, including travel routes important to Qatar’s economy, compounding Doha’s World Cup financing issues.
Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Arab Weekly’s Gulf section editor.