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Friday, October 22, 2021

‘Qatar is listening’: EU officials praise ‘positive’ migrant worker rights reforms


A report by an independent sports think tank found improvements in migrant workers’ rights.

An official from the European Parliament’s intergroup on sports praised Qatar’s “positive reform” following a visit to the Gulf state, as an independent report that surveyed migrant workers in Qatar noted major improvements to address concerns.

The group visited some of the World Cup stadiums and met with workers and Qatari officials in Doha over the weekend.

“The process of reform which we have witnessed is positive, not only for Qatar but for the entire region to follow,” Vice Chair of the Delegation for the Relations with the Arab Peninsula and Chair of the Sport Intergroup Marc Tarabella told reporters on Friday.

Tarabella was part of the delegation that met with the Gulf state’s Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, Minister of Labour Yousuf Mohamed Al Othman Fakhroo and the National Human Rights Committee [NHRC].

Furthermore, Tarabella said that the delegation also had “fruitful meetings” with the UN’s International Labour Organization [ILO] office in Qatar and visited the Lusail Stadium.

“Process of reform is going to continue after 2022 and we believe the country is going in the right direction,” said the European official, adding that a delegation will be visiting Qatar some time next year, without providing information on the date of the visit.

“Qatar is strongly listening” to the suggestions concerning workers’ rights, he added.

“We look forward to further engaging with Qatar to see what further progress has been achieved in the coming months,” he said.

Joining him at the press conference was Tiziana Beghin, member of the committees of the international trade, budget and member of the Sport Intergroup at the EU Parliament.

“We were free to speak to people, with workers, we have also met with international organisations like the ILO and all the reports are good enough. It’s not perfection, but perfection is not in this world. Also in our countries we have to improve each sector,” said Beghin.

Several football federations from countries in the west have been calling on the international community to boycott the FIFA World Cup 2022 next year, citing concerns over the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf state.

British media has been particularly active in targeting Qatar, releasing reports that have claimed an alarming number of deaths among migrant workers, insisting that they are linked to the construction of stadiums.

A report published by The Guardian in February headlined, “Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar as it gears up for World Cup” linked the “shocking” death rate to the start of the World Cup 2022 journey a decade ago.

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However, the report failed to clarify the reasons behind the deaths and was dismissed by Qatar as “baseless”.

The Guardian failed to cite official medical records explaining the circumstances of the deaths and whether or not the deceased worked on any World Cup related projects, but goes on to quote a labour rights in the Gulf experts who says its “likely that many workers who died were employed on these World Cup infrastructure projects”.

When asked about the reports, Tarabella said he does not comment on news articles, but encourages the world to see the reality in Doha instead.

“I think now I can invite the people from the EU and parliaments to come to Qatar. The authorities are open, it’s a unique country in the region, the ILO is here,” he said.

Qatar is the only country in the region to host the ILO office, a move that is seen as proof of Doha’s commitment to addressing concerns raised over rights abuses.

New report findings

Meanwhile, independent sports think tank Fifa Ethics and Regulation Watch [FERW] found “significant” improvement in workers’ conditions in Qatar since winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The survey conducted by FERW pointed towards Qatari authorities as the main force behind changes made to address workers’ rights in terms of pay and their general treatment, with no evidence of FIFA being responsible for the reforms.

“Disappointingly, we found little or no evidence that football’s governing body had been part of this change, and that these improvements had been driven by three factors, namely the ruler of Qatar, the substantial body of work undertaken by NGOs like Amnesty or the International Labour Organisation and the scrutiny of the emirate and its treatment of foreign workers by the international media,” said Robert Oulds, the report’s author.

When asked if the World Cup is “helping to improve human rights and labour conditions in Qatar”, 95% responded with “yes” and 5% said “no”.

“We came to the project with an open mind, but aware of conflicting press reports about the situation on the ground. Some painted a dystopian image of the emirate, while others a rose tinted one,” said Oulds.

Some 53% of workers said their working environment and treatment improved while 16% said laws needed further implementation. However, 13% said that have yet to witness any improvements.

Oulds noted that the report’s conclusion came through interviews with workers at different sites in Qatar and not just from those working at World Cup stadiums.

Over the past year in particular, Qatar has been praised on a global and regional scale for its “historic” labour reforms.

In March, Qatar introduced the region’s first ever non-discriminatory minimum wage, under which employers employers must pay allowances of at least QAR 300 for food and QAR 500 for housing on top of the minimum monthly basic wage of QAR 1,000.

Employers who pay their staff less than the minimum wage will face one-year in jail and a QAR 10,000 fine.

As part of the major labour reform agenda, Qatar drastically enhanced monitoring across the board to detect violations, enacting swifter penalties and further strengthening the capacity of labour inspectors.

So far, dozens of companies have faced action from authorities for violating the new laws.

These labour reforms also include the dismantling of the controversial “kafala” or sponsorship system, becoming the first country in the region to do so.

In an exclusive interview with Doha News in March, senior ILO official, Houtan Homayounpour said more work needs to be done to ensure the protection of workers in Qatar, though authorities should be recognised for the work that has gone into making these changes.

In May,Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs [MADLSA] launched its new platform for workers’ complaints, enabling employees to submit public violations of the labour law.

The employee or worker can file a complaint by logging in through the authentication system available on the platform.

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