By Onochie Anibeze

With less than 12,000 square kilometres of space, it is among the smallest sovereign states in the world, about twice the size of Delaware.

But Qatar is rich—very rich.

A Forbes study published earlier this year found the Gulf nation’s GDP per capita to be higher than anywhere else on the planet. It is a country awash in petrodollars; its Doha skyline looks like something out of The Jetsons.

“If wealth is power,” wrote Forbes’ contributor Beth Greenfield, “then the Qataris have some serious muscle to flex.”

Muscles they flexed in acquiring the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. However, the flexing was in their effort to prove they possessed what it would take to host a successful World Cup.

When the small Arabian state of Qatar decided to bid for the hosting rights of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it was up against some of the most powerful countries in world football like the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

Writing on the Qatar successful bid, Jerrard Peters of World Football submits, “What’s fascinating about Qatar’s successful bid is just how resounding its victory was. After the first round of voting, Qatar already had as many supporters as its three rivals combined, and as Australia, Japan and South Korea were discarded in succession from the ballot, Qatar continued to gain votes. In the end, the United States was defeated, 14-8.”

Qatar’s successful bid was overshadowed by a gale of allegations of bribery and general corruption. But the country came out tops after it was discovered that the Qatar bid did not insult the voting process. They only played FIFA’s game by FIFA’s rules.

In what appeared as a conspiracy by the international community, even among some Gulf states who were still shocked by the FIFA decision to award the FIFA 2022 World Cup hosting rights to the Gulf state, other sundry issues among which were human rights abuse against immigrant workers, most of who worked at construction sites of the various stadiums, hotels and roads and the general infrastructure ahead of the World Cup cropped up.

Some western countries adopted several measures to protest what they termed as the hostile human rights record of Qatar and the poor working conditions of immigrant workers in that country. The criticism led to some politicians putting their foot down, including in France, where several French cities, including Paris, recently announced that they will not broadcast the games on large screens in public as a form of protest.

Denmark has announced that her national team will wear toned-down jerseys in protest against the host nation’s poor human rights record.

In response to the allegations, the government of Qatar initiated a lot of reforms and subsequently threw its doors open for the relevant international organisations to visit and carry out first hand assessment.

Since 2018, the International Labour Organisation has been supporting the Government of Qatar in adopting a comprehensive and ambitious package of labour reforms. The measures taken have already improved the working and living conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers to ensure that all workers could benefit. Below is a summary of the progress made to date.

The most problematic and restrictive elements of the kafala (sponsorship) system were dismantled, including removing the requirements for workers to obtain exit permits to leave the country, and no-objection certificates to change employers.

Between September 2020 and March 2022, over 300,000 workers (including 7,000 domestic workers) changed jobs.

A non-discriminatory minimum wage came into force in March 2021, and 280,000 workers, or 13% of the workforce, saw their basic wage rise. The law includes minimum thresholds for basic wage, food and accommodation, totalling QR 1,800 or USD 500. In addition, a Minimum Wage Commission was established to monitor its impact.

The Wage Protection System (WPS) monitors the payment of all workers in the private sector. The WPS was enhanced following a comprehensive independent assessment.

The Worker’s Support and Insurance Fund, established in 2019, has disbursed QAR 358,000,000 (nearly USD 100m) to over 35,000 workers, as of March 2022.

Models of fair recruitment have been piloted, and lessons learned disseminated widely. Due diligence in recruitment has been promoted through a hospitality sector working group, with public clients as part of public procurement, and through other engagements with the private sector.

Urgent priorities: Improving procedures and enforcement to promote fair recruitment is a key area of focus. Using the lessons learned and recommendations, there is a need to promote fair recruitment practices within the operations of the private and public sectors.

Urgent priorities: Labour inspection campaigns are planned on strategic priorities, including on the top causes of severe injuries, accident notification, heat stress, etc.

Fair recruitment

Fourteen Qatar Visa Centers have been established in countries of origin, which have reduced contract deception and substitution.

Models of fair recruitment have been piloted, and lessons learned disseminated widely. Due diligence in recruitment has been promoted through a hospitality sector working group, with public clients as part of public procurement, and through other engagements with the private sector.

The new Labour codes, general labour and employment Acts have redefined the working conditions of workers in Qatar.

A special fund has been established to enhance the general welfare of the workers. The fund aims to support, ensure and provide care for workers, guarantee their rights and provide a healthy and safe working environment for them. In particular it is tasked with (Art. 5):

1.Providing the needed and sustainable financial resources for the support and insurance of workers.

2.Paying the workers’ benefits, which are settled by the labor dispute settlement committees, and subsequently reclaiming those amounts from the employer.

3.Contributing to the provision and establishment of playgrounds, entertainment venues, or workers’ accommodation, in coordination with the relevant authorities.

The fund shall receive for its annual budget 60% of the fees collected for workers’ permits and their renewal (Art. 4).

Qatar’s genuine interest in giving the world the best World Cup in history has been unassailable. The government and organisers have bent backwards in relaxing usually very strict everyday rules in order to make life easy for the millions of football fans and tourists while they tournament lasts. It’s a unique World Cup in reference to its compactness. Venues are not far from each other and fans can watch two matches in a day. The facilities are first class and football, according to Loathar Matthaus, will be ‘sweet because the weather will be fine and the pitches are very lush.’

The criticisms have not abated but Qatar is ready and fans can’t wait for the games to begin. The White House said two days ago that they would send a delegation to Qatar cheer Team USA, so would many governments of many countries do for their teams. The universality of the World Cup will be prominent in Qatar and that’s exciting to millions who love the game.

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