Six months to kick-off: Qatar’s labour rights improvements aren’t what they seem
With just six months until the FIFA Qatar World Cup 2022 kicks off in Doha, workers’ rights are still far from being effectively protected under Qatar’s labour rights improvements.
Ahead of the six-month countdown to the Qatar World Cup 2022, data gathered by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (Resource Centre) between January 2019 and April 2022 reveals a bleak reality for the two million migrant workers integral to the successful delivery of the tournament. Behind the glossy images celebrating global diversity, migrant workers – who comprise 95% of the workforce in Qatar – continue to suffer serious labour rights abuses.
In the first four months of 2022, 47 cases of labour rights abuse in Qatar were recorded by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, with violations of employment conditions (35 cases), including non-payment of wages and payment of recruitment fees, and health and safety breaches (29 cases) occurring most frequently.
Labour violations are taking place despite “sweeping” reforms introduced by Qatar since 2015. While much lauded by the international community, the Resource Centre has recorded an increase in the frequency of reported abuses since then. Between January 2019 and April 2022 Qatar recorded the highest number of alleged labour abuse cases (215) among all Gulf Cooperation Council countries, accounting for 39% of the total number recorded for the region.
While construction and engineering recorded the highest number of abuse allegations among all sectors (65 cases since January 2019), data showed the hospitality sector is failing to respect the rights of migrant workers, recording a total of 24 cases impacting workers including in hotels, restaurants and other catering services.
On paper: Kafala system “abolished”, allowing migrant workers to change jobs or leave the country without their employer’s permission.
On the ground: In 2021, hotel workers in Qatar reported they were not able to freely change jobs despite the landmark reform abolishing the No-Objection Certificate (Kafala system).
- 12 out of 14 hotel workers revealed barriers to changing jobs, ranging from being unaware of their new rights, to fear of reprisal, including detention and deportation, if they requested transfer.
- Three out of 11 hotel brands referred to the now abolished No-Objection Certificate, suggesting the brands themselves are not properly aware of the content of the labour law reforms in practice.
- Three more hotel brands told us they required workers to submit a formal or written resignation – a requirement that is not within the labour law.
A hotel driver from East Africa said: “On the new law [abolishing the No-Objection Certificate], to be honest, it’s just there on mere paper because these employers are not signing the resignation letters. Instead, they go ahead and cancel your visa and, before you know it, they forcefully repatriate you back to your country. On extreme cases they go further and report you as a runaway worker to the CID [Criminal Investigation Department].”
On paper: Introduction of a Wage Protection System (WPS) in 2015 and the first non-discriminatory minimum wage in the Gulf region in 2021; the labour law prohibits charging of recruitment fees.
On the ground: Between January 2019 and April 2022, data from the Resource Centre found:
- 131 cases of non-payment of wages reported in Qatar.
- 35 cases of recruitment fees being paid in Qatar.
- In 2021, we found exploitative recruitment practices were one of the most serious areas of risk for workers in Qatar’s luxury hotels.
- Eight of 18 workers interviewed said they had paid recruitment fees. Eight of the 11 responding hotel brands either did not provide any data or said they had not detected any instances of recruitment fees, while simultaneously failing to outline robust mechanisms to safeguard against fee charging.
On paper: Establishment of a Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund to “provide care for workers, guarantee their rights and provide a healthy and safe working environment”.
On the ground:
- In November 2021 an investigation from the Times revealed appallingly high levels of chronic kidney disease and dependence on dialysis treatment among Nepali workers returned from the Gulf.
- One man reported working 12-hour shifts on a World Cup stadium in extremely hot conditions and sometimes working up to 20 hours with only a few breaks with insufficient drinking water and food. He also said he was not paid overtime and slept in a cramped room with six other people.
Between January 2019 and April 2022, data from the Resource Centre found:
- 54 cases of verbal and physical abuse.
- 64 cases of inhumane and/or poor living conditions.
- 67 cases of arbitrary denial of fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, or movement.
Isobel Archer, Gulf Programme Manager, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “Since being awarded the FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar has introduced sweeping and encouraging labour reforms with great potential to change the lives of the huge numbers of migrant workers toiling to make this tournament a success.
“However, abusive labour practices are continuing, which only undermine the work done to overhaul the system. That wage theft is cited in 61% cases, especially highlights the lack of robust mechanisms to ensure timely, full payment – which all workers deserve at a minimum. The introduction of labour reforms without meaningful and systematic implementation is simply not enough and cannot be used as an excuse for no further action. With just six months until kick off, the Supreme Committee, FIFA, and other stakeholders, including sponsors and football associations, must strive for a rights-respecting legacy for this World Cup.
“This will include a coordinated effort on behalf of all World Cup stakeholders. When Qatar won its bid for the FIFA World Cup 2022, the international community was presented with a rare opportunity to push for lasting change in a region where it is desperately needed – but this window of opportunity is quickly closing. Stakeholders must use their leverage to ensure the tournament leaves a positive legacy for workers’ rights in the country through full and effective implementation of the labour reforms and access to remedy for workers who have suffered abuses.”
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Notes to editors:
- Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts of companies across the globe.
- Visit our Qatar World Cup Parallel Portal to explore other projects across Qatar implicated in human rights abuse.
Media contact: Priyanka Mogul (London-based), Media Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, +44 (0) 7880 956239, [email protected]