Soccer-Qatar promises better welfare for World Cup workers

Reuters

(Adds reaction from Amnesty International, ITUC)

By Amena Bakr

DOHA, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Qatar's 2022 World Cup organisers said on Tuesday they would penalise contractors who violated the welfare of construction workers after the Gulf country was widely criticised over its labour rights record.

But the measures, which included detailed standards unveiled by the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, did not deal with the sponsorship system for migrant workers that a U.N. official said in November was a source of labour abuse.

Pressure on Qatar increased after a report in the UK newspaper The Guardian in September which found that dozens of Nepali workers had died during the summer in Qatar and that labourers were not given enough food and water.

Officials from Qatar and Nepal denied the report.

Amnesty International and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), who have also criticised the treatment of migrant labourers in Qatar, gave Tuesday's announcement a lukewarm reception.

Faced with the challenge of completing big construction and infrastructure projects before the World Cup, Qatar has an increasing number of its estimated 1.8 million foreigners working on projects related to football's showcase event.

The Workers' Welfare Standards states that all contractors and sub-contractors engaged in the delivery of its projects must comply with principles set out in the charter and relevant Qatari laws.

The new commitments, laid down in a 50-page document, set out standards on wages and workers' accommodation and include tougher inspections.

"The committee reserves the right to penalise contractors who are non-compliant or, in extreme cases, terminate its contract with a company that is continually in breach of them," the World Cup organising committee said in a statement.

The Supreme Committee said it had worked closely with the International Labour Organisation on the charter.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT REPORT

"Progress reports based on the audits are to be made public in order to track progress," it said.

Many sponsors, often labour supply firms or wealthy Qataris who provide workers to businesses for profit, confiscate the passports of guest workers for the duration of their contracts.

There was no mention of the kafala, or sponsorship system, in the committee's statement and it is still unclear if the government is working to abolish the system.

The committee said the labour ministry had also increased the number of trained labour inspectors by 30 percent over the past six months to monitor contractors' compliance.

Qatar had been given two weeks in late January to provide a report to soccer's world governing body FIFA on how it has improved conditions for labourers.

The report will be presented by FIFA executive committee member Theo Zwanziger to a hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday.

ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said the new standards merely reinforced the kafala system.

"This charter is a sham for workers," she said in a statement.

"It promises health and safety but provides no credible enforcement. It promises employment standards but gives migrant workers no rights to collectively bargain or join a trade union. It promises equality but does not provide a guarantee of a minimum wage."

"If FIFA are serious about Qatar continuing to host the World Cup in 2022, they will demand freedom of association such that workers can be represented by those they choose.

"They will demand immediate steps to end kafala, immediate steps to give workers the rights to negotiate wages and conditions and set up effective legal compliance through a tribunal system for complaints."

STARTING POINT

Amnesty also said the measures needed to go further and questioned whether they could be enforced.

"While this may be a good starting point, the charter will only address the concerns of a relatively small proportion of migrant workers in Qatar; those involved in the construction of stadiums and training grounds," said James Lynch, Amnesty International's researcher on migrants' rights in the Gulf.

"The reality is that all foreign workers across the country are still subject to the restrictive sponsorship system which facilitates abuse," added Lynch.

"There are also serious questions relating to the implementation of these standards.

"In our experience enforcement is almost always the stumbling block. We need to know how the Supreme Committee will effectively address non-compliance by contractors and subcontractors."

"Ultimately, these standards alone will not be enough - we need to see real reform including to the sponsorship system, led by the government, for all of Qatar's workers." (Additional reporting by Brian Homewood in berne; Editing by Yara Bayoumy/Rex Gowar and Ken Ferris)