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Issue #1617      November 6, 2013

Slavery amidst World Cup preps in Qatar

The tiny Arab monarchy of Qatar is rolling in wealth from oil and natural gas. It has used this wealth to bankroll the rebellion against President Assad of Syria and to create the well known Al Jazeera TV network.

The native population of Qatar is only 250,000, and has a high standard of living. But the idea of paying decent wages and providing acceptable working conditions to millions of foreign migrant labourers working on the preparations for the 2022 FIFA football World Cup competition has not yet caught on among Quatari movers and shakers.

An investigation by the UK Guardian has shown that the thousands of workers who are already constructing the infrastructure for the 2022 event, and the 1.5 million more who have yet to arrive, have to put up with slave like working conditions. Among the abuses documented are:

  • Forty four workers have died in Qatar, mostly of heart attacks, which is not surprising as many are labouring in temperatures of 44 Celsius and are denied access to water.
  • Labour brokers take their passports from the workers and refuse to give them the required Qatari identification cards; this is to keep them from running away.
  • Wages are also deliberately withheld to keep workers from decamping.
  • Finding themselves in abusive situations, workers are unable to switch to other jobs without permission of the labour contractor and Qatari authorities.
  • Filthy, unsanitary and overcrowded living conditions for workers.
  • Sometimes, physical attacks on workers who try to stand up for their rights.
  • Wages owed are sometimes not paid at all.

Most of these workers come from Nepal, Bangladesh and other extremely poor South Asian countries. This is a pattern found in all the wealthy Arabian oil states, with some workers coming from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and sub-Saharan Africa also. Some of these migrant workers labour as personal servants of wealthy local families, which does not protect them from rough treatment.

Countries in the region whose private sector work forces consist overwhelmingly of migrant or “guest” workers from poorer nations include Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

The exploitation begins with rapacious labour recruiters in the workers’ countries of origin, who charge high fees for connecting workers with jobs. Labour brokers in the wealthy receiving countries take another cut. Often workers end up deeply in debt to the recruiters, and they end up not having enough money left to send home to their impoverished families.

A major factor in making this exploitation possible is the lack of strong labour unions, or any unions at all, in the host countries, most of which have repressive anti-labour regimes. Qatar prohibits unions and strikes.

The contractors who are organising the work on the ground are often “Western”, i.e. US, British or other European companies. They have direct responsibility for assuring that workers are treated decently. But evidently, with more than US$100 billion to be spent on the FIFA World Cup preparations, neither the contractors nor the Qatari government has been too strict about monitoring.

Organised labour is mobilising internationally to oppose the Qatar horrors, which, according to the International Trade Union Confederation, will end up costing the lives of at least 4,000 workers.

People’s World

Next article – US trying to play Iran off Syria?

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