COVID-19: Deep concern for construction workers in Qatar & UAE after firms quizzed on virus response
- Half (7/14) of construction companies in Qatar and the UAE failed to respond to survey, a worrying lack of transparency on action to protect workers
- All seven disclosed welcome anti-infection programmes and medical assistance for workers However, workers are still vulnerable to COVID-19 due to cramped housing and ongoing close-work on building sites.
- Workers at World Cup sites appear to lack personal protective equipment (PPE) Workers also risk disproportionate economic hardship, with companies reporting little action to help them
- FIFA and Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy should do more to improve safeguards if construction work continues
London, UK – Migrant construction workers in Qatar and the UAE are facing severe risks in the COVID-19 pandemic, with companies doing too little to protect them from infection and economic hardship.
A new report out today from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) finds that while some construction companies are taking welcome steps, most are not doing enough to protect these at-risk workers. Migrant workers to Gulf countries - most from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Kenya – live in tightly packed, often unsanitary, labour camps – conditions perfect for the spread of COVID-19.
And many construction projects appear to be continuing despite the pandemic. An outbreak among construction workers in a labour camp in Qatar prompted a swift lockdown of thousands of workers, including workers on infrastructure projects related to the 2022 World Cup (though not World Cup sites themselves). BHRRC surveyed 14 construction companies* on what steps they are taking to protect migrant workers.
Half did not respond. Of the seven that did, all disclosed welcome anti-infection programmes for workers, as did Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which oversees World Cup construction. However, cramped accommodation and building sites mean social distancing is impossible for these workers. Despite this, none of the companies surveyed reported new plans to increase worker accommodation or adequately protect workers on construction sites. Further, it appears workers at World Cup sites are not always given personal protective equipment (PPE).
The Supreme Committee has advised workers to bring their own scarves for protection if there is a shortage of medical masks rather than companies or government providing them. Too little is being done to protect these workers from disproportionate economic hardship. Only four companies - Bam International, Besix/Six Construct, Laing O’Rourke and Vinci/QDVC – reported that they guarantee job security for those unable to work. Only 3 companies – Bam International, Besix/Six Construct, and Vinci/QDVC; reported that workers who had to quarantine would be entitled to their wages in full.
In the absence of wider company action, the Government of Qatar this week took steps to address these gaps, including reducing accommodation density and guaranteeing workers under quarantine their full salaries through loans to companies. It is critical that companies not pass these costs onto workers, and that the Government properly monitors the implementation of these measures.
Marti Flacks, Deputy Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said:
“We are deeply concerned that many global construction companies are not acting decisively to protect their migrant workforce in the Gulf, both from the disease, or from economic hardship if they become infected. FIFA and the Supreme Committee should also look to strengthen their action to protect workers that are engaged on World Cup projects.
“While some construction companies are taking welcome steps to protect the health and safety of workers during the crisis, many others are not, or are not being transparent about the steps they are taking, leaving workers ill-informed, anxious, and unprepared.
“Companies and governments are taking extraordinary steps to ensure the construction sector continues its operations, but need to do more to ensure this does not come at the expense of vulnerable workers. Companies should review and adopt the ILO guidance on labour standards and COVID-19, and look to tackle the long-term impacts this pandemic will have on workers’ livelihoods – including steps to reform their labour practices to avoid future crises.”
The Resource Centre is calling on companies, governments, construction clients, FIFA, and the Supreme Committee to urgently reform migrant worker accommodation to allow social distancing; to provide workers with personal protection equipment or put projects on hold until workers can safely perform their duties without them; and to protect workers from disproportionate economic harm, including by receiving full pay if infected or in quarantine, and making sure workers are not forced to resign or take unpaid leave.
Adam Barnett, Communications Officer, BHRRC. Email: [email protected]
Notes to editors:
*Companies (14) plus FIFA and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (16 total):
- Bam International (Netherlands)
- Besix (operating through its local subsidiary, Six
- Construct) (Belgium/UAE)
- Bin Omran Trading and Contracting (Qatar)1
- FIFA (Switzerland)
- Laing O’Rourke (UK)
- Multiplex (UK)
- Salini Impreglio (Italy)
- Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (Qatar)
- Vinci (operating through its local subsidiary QDVC) (France/ Qatar)
- AF Construction (UAE)
- Al Balagh Trading & Contracting (Qatar)
- Al Naboodah Construction (UAE)
- Petroserv Limited (Qatar)
- Porr (Austria)
- TAV Construction (Turkey)
- Tekfen Construction (Turkey)