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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Qatar official slams World Cup accusations as ‘inaccurate distortions’


Elected officials and NGOs have written to French daily Le Monde to slam Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup, prompting a response from officials in the Gulf state.

International officials and NGOs alike have taken yet another stab at Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup, demanding that transnational companies be involved in the preparation of the global tournament in a letter to French daily Le Monde.

The letter cited a misleading and inaccurate report by the Guardian, which claimed that over 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar while working on World Cup construction sites.

The officials and NGOs demanded accountability from both multinational organisations and FIFA, claiming that their activities have resulted in the violation of human rights when it comes to the case of migrant workers.

Public rally to raise money for Lusail security guard pictured in heat

The letter, which featured signature from high-level officials, slammed the multinationals, saying that “among these companies that exploit these workers are many European companies: at least 11 of them operate on the sites of the World Cup.”

“To build stadiums, highways, and even entire cities, thousands of men are exploited on construction sites after having their passports confiscated, thus finding themselves totally at the mercy of their employers. They work between 66 and 77 hours a week, without water or shade, under a blazing sun. Housed in slums, some workers have not been paid for several months,” the article read.

However, Deputy Director of Qatar’s Government Communications Office (GCO) Sheikh Thamer Bin Hamad Al-Thani has, once more, refuted these claims, saying many of the critiques of Qatar are baseless or poorly-founded.

While Sheikh Thamer admitted the Gulf country has taken accountability for short-comings, he also slammed the Guardian article, reiterating that the report was not accurate.

“We remain resolute in the face of criticism, and when an article misleads readers and ignores the realities on the ground, it is our responsibility to respond with the facts. If the authors of the op-ed really wanted to understand the truth, a quick online search would reveal the many opportunities our government has seized to respond to the Guardian’s inaccurate claims,” he writes.

The Qatari official also pointed to fact that there are currently 1.4 million foreign nationals living in Qatar and only 20% of them are employed on construction sites. “Less than 10% of all deaths in the last seven years have involved people employed in the construction sector, with only three deaths related to work on World Cup sites,” added Sheikh Thamer.

Statistics obtained from the embassies for the Guardian claims do not include just migrant workers, but rather the total number of all deaths of nationals of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, across all occupations.

“Qatar has never shied away from criticism when justified, and we have repeatedly acknowledged that there are areas left to improve. Labour reforms in Qatar are set for the long-term and the result of an unwavering desire for change that existed long before the World Cup was awarded,” he wrote.

Sheikh Thamer also accused the entities responsible for the Le Monde article of disregarding the labour reforms in Qatar.

“Contrary to their claims, passport confiscation is now sanctioned with a heavy fine and imprisonment for repeated offenders, while working hours during the hottest summer months have been adjusted. Infringing companies have been shut down, and new courts have been created to speed up workers’ access to justice,” the official said.

This includes the opening of the International Labour Organisation’s office in Doha, the eradication of the No Objection Certificate that previously prevented workers from changing jobs without their employer’s permission, and for the first time in the region, introducing the new non-discriminatory minimum wage.

Read also: Qatar closes 232 work sites in just one month for violating summer working hours

Authorities also introduced a platform to handle workers’ complaints and disputes, and a WhatsApp service was launched to inform Qatar’s population on labour laws in different languages.

Most recently, authorities in Qatar also amended working hours during the summer period to ensure all staff members who carry out work outdoors are protected from the heat.

Per new legislation, staff are prohibited to work outside between 10am and 3:30pm starting from June 1 and up until September 15 every year.

This replaces earlier legislation issued in 2007 that set the prohibited outdoor summertime working hours from 11:30am to 3:00pm between June 15 until August 31.

In June, action was taking against more than 232 worksites for violating the law that bans outdoor work during summer, Qatar’s ministry of labour said.

Authorities fined 98 companies and closed 232 worksites for a period of three days for not complying with the rules, noting most of the violating companies work in the contracting sector on different sites.

The companies were caught during an intensive inspection campaign organised by the ministry in June to ensure businesses adhere to necessary precautions set in place to protect workers from heat stress at open work sites.

“The task of reforms has not been easy, and more challenges lie ahead. But we are ready to meet them and we hope that our perseverance will inspire other countries in the region to do the same. Qatar’s objective has always been for the 2022 World Cup to create a positive legacy for our country and the region,” Sheikh Thamer added.

Despite what he described as “malicious criticism,” the Qatari official said Doha will continue “undaunted in pursuing its reform agenda and will leave a legacy for millions to enjoy.”

More action needed

Despite major, significant reforms, exploitation of labour workers remains a problem in Qatar, with several human rights organisations calling on Doha to ensure laws are implemented on the ground to ensure progress.

In an exclusive interview with Doha News earlier this year, senior International Labour Organisation (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.

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