Qatar officials have refuted an international trade union group’s claim that thousands of people will die getting the country ready for the 2022 World Cup.
This week, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reiterated its prediction that 7,000 workers in Qatar would be killed building the stadiums and infrastructure that the country needs to host the FIFA football tournament.
The figure appears to be based on annual fatality rates of all expats in Qatar, and does not take into account profession or cause of death.
This is problematic especially because foreigners comprise some 90 percent of the country’s population.
In response to ITUC, Qatar’s government communications office called the estimate “groundless” and “a deliberate distortion of the facts,” saying in a statement:
“There is absolutely no reason to believe that thousands of workers will die on World Cup sites, and repeating this falsehood, all evidence to the contrary, does not make it true…
It also makes no sense to suggest that all deaths in a population of over a million workers are a result of workplace accidents or conditions, as ITUC appears to claim. To illustrate the point: if ITUC were to apply the same logic to an evaluation of worker fatalities in the run-up to the London Olympic Games, every death of a non-British worker between 2006 and 2012 would have been attributed to the London Olympics.”
Qatar also defended its treatment of blue-collar expats, saying it is working to ensure people are paid on time through the new Wage Protection System and that reforms to the kafala sponsorship system are expected to take effect next year.
However, in a 40-page reported titled “Qatar: Profit and Loss,” ITUC lambasted current laws that make it difficult for expats to leave the country without permission from their employers.
It also indicted several international companies for having a presence in Qatar, saying that construction firms, hotels, retail chains and western universities should carefully consider the “cost of doing business in a slave state.”
Though many of the companies are listed by name in the report, no specific instances of abuses are mentioned.
The report continued:
“Every CEO operating in Qatar is aware that their profits are driven by low wage levels – wages that are often based on a discriminatory racial system – and that these profits risk safety, resulting in indefensible workplace injuries, illnesses and death.”
Finally, ITUC pressed FIFA to get involved in Qatar’s labor system, and urged the government to adopt reforms that include:
- Establishing a minimum living wage for all migrants;
- Allowing workers to establish unions so that they can negotiate with their employers; and
- Stepping up inspections and ensuring fair and effective dispute resolution for workers in erring companies, including subcontractors.