Doubts linger over labourer welfare in Qatar

13 February 2014

Qatar’s new guidelines for migrant worker welfare are restricted to projects related to the World Cup

In the wake of strong international criticism of the alleged mistreatment of migrant labourers working on construction projects in Qatar, the country’s organising committee for the 2022 Fifa World Cup has released its most detailed worker welfare standards to date.

The document establishes new guidelines that companies must follow with regard to payment of wages, health and safety, and accommodation, and also introduces a new auditing system to enforce the standards.

But these guidelines only pertain to the World Cup stadium projects, which are due to begin this year. To date, only 38 labourers are working on these schemes, as early works have just begun on the Al-Wakrah stadium.

By ignoring the rest of Qatar’s construction sector, which includes hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers, the government has once again exposed itself to continued criticism from the international community.

Another key criticism is that the standards do not contain any reforms to the country’s kafala, or sponsorship system, for foreign labourers. Under this system, firms can restrict employees’ ability to switch jobs, in effect putting them at the mercy of their employers.

Questions have also been raised about the World Cup committee’s ability to effectively administer and enforce these standards. If regular inspections are not conducted and firms are not taken to task for non-compliance, then the new guidelines will just be more empty words.

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