SHAFAQNA – Amnesty International has accused Qatar of failing migrant workers and “promising little and delivering less” in terms of meaningful reform of its labour laws ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
The human rights organisation, which has produced a series of in-depth reports detailing the grim working conditions of many of the 1.5 million migrant labourers engaged in a huge construction boom, said “little has changed in law, policy and practice” since the government promised limited reforms 12 months ago. It said that of nine key issues identified by Amnesty, limited progress had been made on just five.
In the wake of a Guardian investigation in September 2013, pressure has increased on the Qatari authorities to reform the kafala laws that tie workers to their employer and to improve often dire living and working conditions.
Amnesty said that even those changes that had been promised, such as the introduction of electronic wage transfers to ensure they are paid on time, were still being implemented, and it had spoken to many migrants who still complained of late or non-payment.
The report said Qatar had also failed to meet its target to have 300 labour inspectors in place by the end of 2014 and there had been only limited progress on measures to improve safety on construction sites, regulate exploitative recruitment agencies and improve access to justice for victims of labour exploitation.
“The reality is that more than a year and a half after Amnesty highlighted rampant exploitation of migrants, little has been done to address the root causes of this abuse. We are one year closer to Qatar’s 2022 World Cup – time for changes to be implemented is running out,” said Amnesty’s gulf migrant rights researcher Mustafa Qadri.
“With Qatar’s construction boom continuing and the migrant worker population set to expand to 2.5 million, the need for urgent reform is more pressing than ever.”
The Qatari government disputed many of the Amnesty accusations, insisting: “Significant changes have been made over the last year to improve the rights and conditions of expatriate workers.”
In a statement, the government said it had appointed 294 labour inspectors, a number that it said would rise to 400 by year-end, and added that new accommodation for 250,000 workers was being built.
World football’s governing body has also come under pressure for failing to insist on meaningful reform ahead of the 2022 World Cup, controversially awarded to the tiny Gulf state in December 2010.
“Fifa has spent much time, money and political capital investigating alleged corruption in the Russia and Qatar World Cup bids, and agonising over the scheduling of the tournament,” said Qadri. “But the organisation has yet to demonstrate any real commitment to ensuring Qatar 2022 is not built on a foundation of exploitation and abuse.”
Last week it emerged that four BBC journalists had been detained on an official visit in early May to inspect conditions in migrant labour camps after being accused of trespassing.
Qadri said: “Seeking to silence those documenting the conditions of migrant workers by detaining and intimidating them, sends the message that the government is more concerned about its image than dealing with the appalling reality of the tens of thousands of men and women who are abused in Qatar.”
In Doha, a source close to the Qatari government said that the detention of the BBC film crew had been “overinterpreted” because it had happened in response to a complaint by a property-owner who said the journalists were trespassing.
“There is no organised crackdown, or policy change,” the source insisted. “There has been a massive overinterpretation of this incident. The trend is towards more openness and engagement. This is a bump in the road.”
But there was no explanation of why Mark Lobel and his three colleagues had been under surveillance, with the BBC reporter shown photographs of his activities in the days leading up to his detention by security personnel travelling in eight vehicles. Lobel said his interrogators never explained why he had been held. “They had actually photographed my every move since I arrived,” he said.