A law meant to protect people in Qatar from working outside in scorching summer temperatures has been broken hundreds of times by employers in the past few weeks.
Ministry of Labour figures seen by The Independent reveal there have been 276 violations of the Summer Working Hours directive – which should prevent anyone from working outside between the hours of 10am and 3.30pm from 1 June until 15 September – since the annual law came into force at the beginning of last month.
The number of violations recorded covers the period up to 20 July.
More than two-thirds of the violations were in the construction industry, said officials. There have also been concerns over the level of heat exposure endured by other workers, including those delivering food and security guards.
Those who break the law face a three day closure of the workplace. Further violations can lead to a permanent closure of a business.
Temperatures regularly pass 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Qatar’s summer months, with forecasts predicting temperatures of 44 C (111 F) next week.
The number of violations is seen as especially concerning by critics as they come just four months before the start of the World Cup, and despite years of promises of better protection for workers in Qatar.
“The heat and humidity for several months of the year is potentially deadly,” said Nick McGeehan, a director of FairSquare Projects, a human rights and advocacy group. “It can kill people or can lead to all sorts of other conditions. It’s extremely dangerous.”
He added: “What does it say about Qatar law enforcement? It says employers are not worried about breaking the law and doing that so close to the World Cup should make people wonder how much other laws are being adhered to.”
The Gulf state, which will host the first ever World Cup to be held in the Middle East in November, has come under continual criticism for its treatment of workers, especially labourers, ever since it was granted the right to host the tournament back in 2010.
It is believed that the final total of violations will exceed last year’s figure of 342, despite the proximity to the beginning of football’s biggest tournament and the increased scrutiny placed on Qatar.
Heat stress has long been identified as a potential killer, with some estimates claiming hundreds of workers die each year in Qatar due to searing temperatures, which can place a huge strain on the human cardiovascular system, potentially leading to heart attacks, research has shown.
A BBC Arabic investigation, published earlier this year, uncovered allegations that Qatar was under-reporting the number of migrant workers who have died of heat stroke.
Qatar though has denied such a claim and said it has put in measures in place to protect workers, including the daytime working ban. Other initiatives include providing workers with cooling vests.
A Qatari official told The Independent that the number of reported violations this year indicated that the directive was being strongly applied by the government.
“There has been greater compliance among companies as enforcement measures continue to take hold and awareness of the new laws increases,” said the official.
They continued: “The number of summer workplace violations recorded this year reflects the relentless pressure being applied by the government on the business community. Inspections have increased, more channels are available for workers to lodge their complaints.”
The Summer Working Hours directive was introduced by Doha in 2007.
The International Labour Organisation, a UN agency, has an office in central Doha. Its head, Max Tuñón, said: “We believe that the development of evidence-based heat stress legislation and commitment to effective implementation that we’ve seen in Qatar can inspire other countries to take similar steps.”
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