Migrant workers in Qatar hold rare strikes over conditions as 2022 World Cup looms

Qatar, Doha, 16 July 2019. Picture of ongoing works on football stadium construction for the next World Cup to be held in Qatar in 2022

Qatar has had a rocky time since it was announced it would hold the World Cup 2022. The award was granted in 2010 amidst international criticism that the tournament should not be held there, not least because of the high temperatures. But at least November is slightly cooler than July.

One concern is that Qatar is an alcohol-free state but visitors to the country – which is expected to be 1.5 million in total- for the tournament can stay in a new complex, Lusail, that is being specially built. It is located 23km north of Doha and has good connections by road and rail.

I was in Qatar the day it found out it had won the bid. The man in charge was not surprised that Qatar had won. There are allegations of corruption, in the form of a hefty bribe. This has never been proved.

Since then I understand the number of planned stadia has been scaled back since, according to one consultant who was involved with the process, there was in fighting within the management group, especially the family. Other things appear to have been cut back as well.

Now, workers are going on strike- an unusual development for a Gulf State where unions are illegal and employers often exploit the workers. Qatar is under the microscope with the World Cup looming.

This is how a recent strike was covered by the UK's The Telegraph newspaper.

Migrant workers in Qatar hold rare strikes over conditions as 2022 World Cup looms

By Josie Ensor in Beirut

Migrant labourers in Qatar have been holding rare strikes in the country, some reportedly in response to poor working conditions on World Cup 2022 construction sites.

Thousands took part in two demonstrations over the last week in protest at delayed salaries and "inhuman" conditions.

Videos from the protests show workers wearing yellow vests gathered on a street near the capital Doha.

"We have not been paid for four months and we have not taken any leave since 2013," one protester says. "The water we are given is not fit for human consumption."

There has been increased international scrutiny on Qatar since the Gulf state was chosen to host the games, with rights groups accusing it of exploiting foreign labour.

The Nepalese government says 1,426 of its nationals have died in Qatar since it was awarded the World Cup in 2010. Some died in accidents, while others died from fatal heat-related illness after working in temperatures exceeding 45 degrees. One NGO forecast the number could reach as high as 4,000 by the time the games begin.

Qatar has a migrant labour force of over two million. As many as 30,000 migrant workers helping build the eight stadiums Qatar as well as other infrastructure needed for the tournament.

They are subject to a "kafala" sponsorship system, which gives agencies control over many aspects of workers' lives, including the power to hold their passports and stop them leaving the country.

Responding to criticism, Qatar promised a number of reforms, including increasing the minimum wage from 750 Qatari Riyal a month (£158) to 900 Riyal (£195), though it has not been announced when this will be introduced.

Qatar's Supreme Council for Delivery and Legacy denied any labourers working on World Cup sites took part in the protests, however, it is understood some were working for construction agencies contracted by the government for 2022 projects.

"It is surprising to see workers standing up like considering the high cost of doing so," Hiba Zayadin, researcher in the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told the Telegraph. "Migrant workers are not legally allowed to strike or join trade unions in Qatar.

"This week's protests shows how desperate many of them have become, willing to risk being fired or deported fighting for their rights," she said. "But Qatar'has not cracked down as expected, which might indicate they are worried about international criticism."

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Thursday, 28 May 2020