Qatar provides little improvement for World Cup workers, report finds

It details how efforts to end abuses of foreign workers in the country had made little practical difference

A general view taken on February 6, 2018, shows workers on the construction site at the Al-Wakrah Stadium (Al Janoub Stadium), a World Cup venue designed by celebrated Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, some 15 kilometres on the outskirts of the Qatari capital Doha. - The 40,000 capacity, $575 million (465 million euros) Al-Wakrah Stadium is expected to be one of two further 2022 venues completed this year. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION

Qatari government measures to ensure migrant workers’ rights and timely payment of wages have done little to improve conditions for millions of foreign staff, including those toiling to build stadiums and infrastructure for the tiny peninsular nation’s 2022 Football World Cup, according to a new report published on Monday.

Global watchdog Human Rights Watch detailed how efforts to end abuses of foreign workers in the country had made little practical difference to end violations of rights despite Doha pledging in 2017 to meet international labour organisation commitments.

“Ten years since Qatar won the right to host the … Fifa World Cup 2022, migrant workers are still facing delayed, unpaid, and deducted wages,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We have heard of workers starving due to delayed wages, indebted workers toiling in Qatar only to get underpaid wages and workers trapped in abusive working conditions due to fear of retaliation.”

Human Rights Watch said it had interviewed more than 93 migrant workers working for more than 60 companies or employers and reviewed legal documents and reports to reach its conclusions. Those affected were not just working on the high profile World Cup projects but included security guards, servers, baristas, bouncers, cleaners, management staff, and other construction workers.

The report said that 59 workers said their wages had been delayed, withheld or not paid. Nine workers said they had not been paid because employers said they didn’t have enough clients, 55 said they weren’t paid for overtime even though they worked more than 10 hours a day and 13 said their employers had replaced their original employment contract with one favouring employers. Twenty said they didn’t receive mandatory end-of-service benefits and 12 said employers made arbitrary deductions from their salaries.

The report found that conditions had deteriorated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Qatar had a large number of cases and at times ranked as the world’s highest number of infections per capita. It brought in strict lockdown rules to try to tame the rapid rise.

But the report found that while some employers were not paid – with companies citing the impact of the pandemic as the cause – others were detained and forcibly repatriated to their home counties. Others reported going hungry, unable to buy food and several said they went into debt to survive.

“Wage abuses are also driven by deceptive recruitment practices both in Qatar and in the workers’ home countries that require them to pay between about $700 and $2,600 to secure jobs in Qatar,” Human Rights Watch said. “By the time workers arrive in Qatar, they are already indebted and trapped in jobs that often pay less than promised.”

Responding to the report, the global footballing body said that, “Fifa has a zero-tolerance policy to any form of discrimination and to wage abuse. Through our work to protect the rights of Fifa World Cup workers in Qatar, Fifa is aware of the importance of wage protection measures in the country and this is why Fifa and the other tournament organisers have put in place robust systems to prevent and mitigate wage abuse on Fifa World Cup sites, as well as mechanisms for workers to raise potential grievances and practices to provide for remediation where companies fail to live up to our standards.”

Mr Page warned that Qatar was running out of time to show it was serious about the reforms to prevent abuses.

“Qatar has two years left before players kick the first ball at the Fifa World Cup,” Mr Page said.

“The clock is running out and Qatar needs to show that it will live up to its promise to abolish the kafala system, improve its salary monitoring systems, speed up its redress mechanisms, and adopt additional measures to tackle wage abuse.”