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14 Okt 2019

Qatar: Guardian investigation finds that migrant workers continue to die from ‘heat stress’, fatalies not adequately investigated by govt.

In October 2019 a Guardian investigation into working conditions for migrant workers in Qatar found that hundreds of labourers are estimated to be dying from 'heat stress' every year. 

During the construction boom leading up to the FIFA World Cup 2022, hundreds of thousands of migrants from across Asia and Africa have worked in temperatures of 45C for up to ten hours per day. Recent research by climatologists examined the deaths of 1,300 Nepali workers between 2009-2017; the data clearly demonstrates that the number of deaths increases as the temperature rises over the hotter months of the year. 

Heat stress deaths from fatal heart attacks and respiratory issues are brought on by exposure to very high temperatures during prolonged periods of work, yet the Qatari authorities mostly attribute these to ‘natural causes’. Postmortems are forbidden by Qatari law except in specific circumstances, and when deaths of workers are not recognised as work-related, families of workers are not entitled to compensation. 

The Qatari authorities claim to have taken sufficient measures to protect workers against the heat. A working ban is in place between 11.30 and 3pm during summer months prohibiting work in unshaded outdoor areas. The ban is not weather dependent, however, meaning that workers continue to be exposed to dangerous temperatures and humidity outside of these dates. 

In response to the investigation, Human Rights Watch stated that Qatari authorities must enforce working bans and put in place adequate measures for outdoor workers to protect against potentially fatal heat-related illness. HRW also recommended that labour-sending countries such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh, require Qatar to investigate worker deaths and make data publicly available. In response, the Qatari authorities published a statement noting the development of specific guidance, together with the ILO, for employers to mitigate risk of heat stress. The authorities also noted the suspension of 300 work sites in violation of the ban during inspections carried out in the summer of 2019.

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