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Qatar commits to new welfare standards for FIFA World Cup 2022 workers
The organising committee for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has promised that contractors who build its stadiums will be held to high standards on the welfare of migrant workers, in the wake of trenchant and sustained criticism.
However, the promises, made after demands for a progress update from world football governing body FIFA, do not deal with wider concerns about workers engaged in the $300 billion construction boom underpinning World Cup infrastructure.
Faced with a public meeting on the issue in the European Parliament last week, the recently renamed Qatar 2022 supreme committee for delivery and legacy has insisted it is making "tangible progress" toward reform.
Qatari authorities have been heavily criticised by human rights groups and trade unions since an investigation by UK newspaper The Guardian revealed the scale of the abuse of migrant workers from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and elsewhere who are the backbone of the World Cup construction and the country's wider Qatar Vision 2030 building project.
The Guardian revealed that at least 185 Nepalese workers died in Qatar in 2013, many from heart failure or workplace accidents. Official figures on the death tolls among workers from other countries have yet to emerge.
The new Qatari commitments have been published in a 50-page document that sets out detailed standards on payment of wages, accommodation and welfare and promises to introduce a tough new inspection regime. It says that it addresses "some of the most critical concerns highlighted in recent reports about working and living conditions of workers in Qatar's construction centre".
It is essentially an updated version of the worker's charter published last March, designed to underline the extent to which the World Cup organising committee is taking the issue seriously.
However, it only deals with the construction of the stadiums, which is due to begin in earnest this year. Early work has begun on Al Wakrah stadium and four other stadiums will be in various stages of construction throughout the year.
Just 38 workers, of the hundreds of thousands engaged on infrastructure projects, are currently working specifically on World Cup stadiums.
The charter does not deal with the wider issue of holding to account the myriad contractors and subcontractors working on Vision 2030 and the infrastructure that will underpin the World Cup.
The document explains "the supreme committee firmly believes that all workers engaged on its projects, and those of the other infrastructure developers in Qatar, have a right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their wellbeing, health, safety and security."
Human rights groups have called for more fundamental reform of the kafala system that ties workers to their employer and forbids them from leaving the country without permission. It has led to situations that have been compared to modern day slavery, where unscrupulous middlemen charge large sums to find employment for workers in Qatar and other Gulf states but leave them working long days in unsafe and insanitary conditions – and, in some cases, without pay.
Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee Secretary General Hassan Al Thawadi has consistently argued that hosting the World Cup can help raise standards.
Al Thawadi recently stated "we have always believed that Qatar's hosting of the FIFA World Cup would be a catalyst to accelerate positive initiatives already being undertaken by Qatar, which will leave a legacy of enhanced, sustainable and meaningful progress in regards to worker welfare across the country.
"We already see this progress taking place across Qatar on a daily basis and will continue to work hard to make our vision become the ever-present reality on the ground."
The supreme committee hopes that it will encourage wider change by setting its own standards.
Qatar's Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOLSA) says it has increased the number of trained labour inspectors by 30% and carried out 11,500 spot checks in the past three months.
Qatar Labour Minister Dr Abdullah Saleh Mubarak Al Khulaifi insisted it was determined to apply existing labour laws, adding "Qatar is a young, developing nation experiencing a period of economic growth unprecedented in history, anywhere in the world. We cannot achieve these plans without the help of migrant workers.
"MOLSA will continue to support in enforcing these standards, and Qatar's existing labour laws, and to work with other government bodies in Qatar in holding accountable employers who fail to uphold these laws."
Critics have continually argued that not enough is being done to hold subcontractors to existing labour laws. Fifa first promised to demand higher standards on workers' rights in 2011 and has been criticised for not doing more to force change.
Last month, it wrote to the Qatari organisers demanding a detailed report on the improvement of working conditions in the months since FIFA President Sepp Blatter visited the emir in November following the Guardian's revelations.
FIFA Executive Committee Member Theo Zwanziger has been tasked with working with the International Trade Union Confederation to resolve concerns about Qatar.
Last month Zwanziger stated "what we need are clear rules and steps that will build trust and ensure that the situation, which is unacceptable at the moment, improves in a sustainable manner."
A report from law firm DLA Piper into the deaths of migrant workers, commissioned after The Guardian's original report and allegations from organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, is also due to be completed in the coming weeks.
2nd February 2014 - FIFA AWAITS QATAR’S REPORT ON WORLD CUP 2022 VENUE CONSTRUCTION CONDITIONS
27th September 2013 - HARSH QATARI LABOUR CONDITIONS MOVE CENTRE STAGE AS FIFA DEBATES 2022 WORLD CUP TIMING
14th December 2012 - QATAR PROMISES TO TAKE THE HEAT OUT OF 2022 FIFA WORLD CUP
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