The chairman of Qatar 2022’s organising committee has admitted the “high number” of deaths recorded by the latest workers’ welfare report are a “tragedy” but insists the Gulf state is making progress.
Qatar’s treatment of its army of migrant workers has been the source of scrutiny ever since the small but wealthy nation surprisingly won the right to stage the World Cup in December 2010.
Human rights groups, trade unions and the governments of the countries which provide most of that workforce have repeatedly called on Qatar to improve living conditions, raise safety standards, reduce the amount of control employers can exert and increase pay.
There have been some improvements, particularly for the 30,000 or so workers building World Cup stadiums and training sites, as they come under the auspices of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
Under pressure for campaigners and world football’s governing body Fifa, the Supreme Committee has been working with bodies such as the International Labour Organisation to raise the bar.
Part of this process has been the publication of an annual report, with the fourth edition recently posted on its website. Most of its 62 pages are dedicated to these improvements but there is an alarming section on “non-work-related deaths”.
Between February 2018 and January of this year, 10 workers died away from building sites, with nine of them dying in their bedrooms and six of those being under 36. The men were aged between 26 and 49 and five of them came from Bangladesh, three from India and two from Nepal.
“The Supreme Committee is cognisant that this is a high number of deaths and has been putting in place targeted programmes for early detection and treatment of potential health risks and issues,” the report says.
Speaking to reporters at a meeting of Fifa’s ruling council in Paris, Hassan Al Thawadi said: “There’s no doubt that every death is a tragedy, it’s as simple as that.”
He said his organisation has started a medical study into the deaths with a local university, brought in annual health checks and now monitors where every worker is to make sure they are not lost in the system when moved from one site to another.
“While progress has been made in the state of Qatar there is still a long way to go,” Al Thawadi said. “We are working very hard with (non-governmental organisations), medical institutions, trade unions and universities to do everything we can to address these issues.
“I can’t speak on the time (it has taken), I can speak about the progress that has been made. As I said, in relation to death, no matter what we say, it’s never going to be enough. But we are doing everything we can and we are making sure that whatever solutions we put in, aren’t just solutions for while we’re under the spotlight but solutions that remain beyond 2022.”
One of the proposed reforms is an increase in the minimum wage from 750 Qatari Riyal a month (£158) to 900 Riyal (£195), although Al Thawadi admitted he did not know when it would be introduced. It should also be noted that the Supreme Committee’s report only tells a fraction of the story.
Nicholas McGeehan, an expert on workers’ rights in the Middle East, said: “These nine deaths are from only the Supreme Committee’s World Cup workers, a tiny proportion of the Qatar migrant workforce.
“It is unsafe to work in those conditions without very substantial safeguards, and the Qataris should have independently investigated the health risks and put those protections in place.”
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