*Indicts some construction companies for abuse of labour
Before now there were serious reports, in certain quarters, of deaths of construction workers in Qatar World Cup sites as the country is preparing to host the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar battled to deny such reports and maintained that the reports on construction workers were exaggerated especially by organisations which were against their World Cup hosting rights.
Amnesty International has just released the report of their last investigations in the country.
Qatar may heave a sigh of relief that no deaths of construction workers were recorded, corroborating the position of 2022 World Cup Supreme Committee Secretary General Hassan Al-Thawadi who has consistently said that “no worker has died due to industrial accident in any World Cup construction site.”
But Qatar need to address issues raised by the report which indicted construction companies who usually engage the services of labour supply companies.
These labour supply companies, also known as manpower companies, bring migrant workers into Qatar solely for the purpose of sub-contracting out labour to other companies. There are hundreds of such companies in Qatar. These companies, according to Amnesty International, have dragged their feet in complying to acceptable standards. And the companies that use them have been indicted for their failure to enforce due diligence on them.
According to the report there were still abuses of migrant workers on construction sites by International construction companies although they reported an improved condition between 2015 and this year.
The human rights body said that they based their reports on 132 interviews of migrant construction workers rebuilding the Khalifa Stadium which will host World Cup matches including one of the semifinal matches in 2022. The report indicated that the number of construction workers could rise to 36,000 in the next two to three years as 2022 approaches.
Amnesty International Secretary General, Salil Shetty said this in the report:
“The abuse of migrant workers is a stain on the conscience of world football. For players and fans, a World Cup stadium is a place of dreams. For some of the workers who spoke to us, it can feel like a living nightmare.”
He said that construction workers who spoke with them complained of one abuse or another including poor camp conditions. There were cases of remuneration falling below what was promised, delayed payment of salaries and even confiscation of passports of workers which led to forced labour.
Amnesty International indicated that beaming searchlight on Qatar was yielding results as camp conditions this year were better than what they were in 2015 when they made their findings.
But they maintained that there were still areas that should be addressed. Said the report:
“The workers, mostly from Bangladesh, India and Nepal, spoke to Amnesty International in Qatar between February and May 2015. When Amnesty International researchers returned to Qatar in February 2016, some of the workers had been moved to better accommodation and their passports returned by companies responding to Amnesty International findings, but other abuses had not been addressed.”
Salil Shetty said that “the lot of migrant workers contrasts sharply to that of the top-flight footballers who will play in the stadium. All workers want are their rights: to be paid on time, leave the country if need be and be treated with dignity and respect,” said Salil Shetty.
While Qatar may may see no basis for his seeming comparison between top-flight footballers and construction workers as no where in the world do construction workers earn anything close to the wages of top footballers or are exposed to the affluence of footballers, it will pay the country to address the said harsh work conditions raised by Amnesty International.
2022 World Cup organisers published a report in February 2016 that they have sanctioned some companies for non-compliance. The report highlighted a number of rectification actions taken over the past eight months, including the SC’s rigorous tendering enforcement mechanism having disqualified 18 firms for non-compliance with the Supreme Committee’s WW Standards. In addition Eversendai, a sub-contractor of Midmac / SixCo (MSJV) joint venture leading on the refurbishment of Khalifa International Stadium, relocated all of its employees in Qatar to WW Standards-compliant accommodation at Barwa Al Baraha. Nakheel Landscapes also relocated the vast majority of its workforce to Barwa Al Baraha, with over 1,100 workers transferred since October 2015.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL VISIT TO NEW WORLD CUP WORKER
Since Amnesty International’s visits to these camps in the first half of 2015, most, but not all, of the migrant workers who had been working on Khalifa Stadium and the Aspire Zone green spaces have been moved to new and better accommodation at two sites: Labour City and Barwa. Amnesty International visited both sites in February 2016. The visit was facilitated by the Supreme Committee.
Labour City is a new complex, commissioned by the State of Qatar’s Private Engineering Office. The site is large, encompassing 55 residences, with a potential capacity to house up to 100,000 mostly male workers. The facilities at Labour City are significantly better than the camps at which Amnesty International first interviewed workers. Living spaces are larger and meet the space requirements set by law. The site has Internet access, green outdoor spaces, places for worship and exercise facilities. Each residence is divided into ‘blocks’, which are rented by companies to house their workers. A small hospital facility has been included within Labour City. According to managers on the site who spoke to Amnesty International the hospital is expected to open sometime in 2016.
Labour City is a significant improvement in terms of the conditions and facilities available for migrant workers. However, Amnesty International researchers observed a high degree of surveillance at the site. This included CCTV cameras operating in all of the external and internal public spaces that Amnesty International visited. The delegation was shown a surveillance room manned around the clock by a Qatar Security Services guard who could view the corridors in each block.
BARWA AL BARAHA
Barwa Al Baraha is a private enterprise managed by Waseef, a property management business that is a subsidiary of the partially-state owned company Barwa Real Estate.63 It has a total capacity of 53,000 but currently hosts 10,000 migrant workers. The conditions at Barwa Al Baraha observed by Amnesty International during a visit in February 2016 are a significant improvement on the camps at Al Wakrah, the Industrial Area and Al Khor at which Amnesty International met many of the men interviewed for this report. However, many workers’ bedroom windows were blacked out from the outside, so that natural light could not easily penetrate.64 When the Amnesty International delegation expressed concern regarding workers’ access to natural light in their rooms, Supreme Committee representatives said that the windows required protection from the sun during the hottest months. But they acknowledged the need to improve access to natural light and said that they had requested Barwa Al Baraha management to install retractable curtains in all workers’ bedrooms. ) Page 20
Amnesty International has recognized that there is commitment from the World cup organisers to improve working conditions of migrant workers as highlighted in the amnesty report ‘ The Supreme Committee has demonstrated a consistent commitment to ensuring the rights of workers on World Cup sites are respected and protected. In addition to developing the Workers’ Welfare Standards, the Supreme Committee has met with Amnesty International andother human rights groups and sought input on the Standards and their application, and has reviewed progress and published data regularly. The Committee has also consistently responded to reports of abuse.
However, there are some fundamental problems with the Supreme Committee’s approach to monitoring and enforcing the Workers’ Welfare Standards, as demonstrated by the abuses discovered on the Khalifa Stadium project. First, although the Standards are supposed to apply to all companies and workers on World Cup projects, the Supreme Committee has focused on compliance by the main contractors. This approach ignores the evidence that migrant workers’ rights are generally at greater risk when they are working for small sub-contractors and labour supply companies. Some of the most egregious abuses that Amnesty International documented on Khalifa Stadium were perpetrated by labour supply companies that the Supreme Committee said they did not even know were involved with the project.”