Migrant workers in Qatar hold rare strikes over conditions as 2022 World Cup looms

Josie Ensor
An artist's impression of the Qatar Foundation Stadium for the World Cup 2022 - AP

Migrant labourers in Qatar have been holding rare strikes in the country, some reportedly in response to poor working conditions on World Cup 2022 construction sites.

Thousands took part in two demonstrations over the last week in protest at delayed salaries and “inhuman” conditions.

Videos from the protests show workers wearing yellow vests gathered on a street near the capital Doha.

“We have not been paid for four months and we have not taken any leave since 2013,” one protester says. “The water we are given is not fit for human consumption.”

There has been increased international scrutiny on Qatar since the Gulf state was chosen to host the games, with rights groups accusing it of exploiting foreign labour.

The Nepalese government says 1,426 of its nationals have died in Qatar since it was awarded the World Cup in 2010. Some died in accidents, while others died from fatal heat-related illness after working in temperatures exceeding 45 degrees.

One NGO forecast the number could reach as high as 4,000 by the time the games begin.

Qatar has a migrant labour force of over two million. As many as 30,000 migrant workers helping build the eight stadiums Qatar as well as other infrastructure needed for the tournament.

They are subject to a “kafala” sponsorship system, which gives agencies control over many aspects of workers’ lives, including the power to hold their passports and stop them leaving the country.

Responding to criticism, Qatar promised a number of reforms, including increasing the minimum wage from 750 Qatari Riyal a month (£158) to 900 Riyal (£195), though it has not been announced when this will be introduced.

Qatar's Supreme Council for Delivery and Legacy denied any labourers working on World Cup sites took part in the protests, however, it is understood some were working for construction agencies contracted by the government for 2022 projects.

“It is surprising to see workers standing up like considering the high cost of doing so,” Hiba Zayadin, researcher in the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told the Telegraph. “Migrant workers are not legally allowed to strike or join trade unions in Qatar. 

“This week’s protests shows how desperate many of them have become, willing to risk being fired or deported fighting for their rights,” she said. “But Qatar’has not cracked down as expected, which might indicate they are worried about international criticism.”