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  1. ITV Report

Fifa 2022 World Cup: Is Qatar doing enough to save migrant workers' lives?

Since Qatar began constructing venues to host the World Cup in 2022, the country has faced continued criticism over the mounting human cost, as many migrant workers face appalling living and working conditions.

Vast numbers are made to work long hours in searing temperatures for low pay, and live in overcrowded and often squalid accommodation.

Builders and construction vehicles at work on a construction site in Doha. Credit: ITV News/SeanSwann
A kitchen used by workers at a so-called 'labour camp' in Qatar. Credit: Flickr/ITUC

Following global criticism - prompted by a number of media reports into the issue - Qatar commissioned law firm DLA Piper to investigate.

The company's analysis indicated that of the three biggest migrant populations in Qatar - Nepalese, Indian and Bangladeshi - around 500 had died in 2012 alone.

Read: Workers pay for Qatar's World Cup with their lives

However, this figure does not include the large numbers of migrants from other countries also resident in Qatar.

According to the International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC) report The Case Against Qatar:

1,239
Indian (717) and Nepalese (522) migrants died in Qatar between 2011 and 2013
4,000
Workers could die in Qatar by the 2022 World Cup

The Qatari Supreme Committee, which is responsible for the delivery of the 2022 World Cup, notes that these figures apply to the construction industry as a whole - not just to delivery of tournament infrastructure.

It also insists that no worker has died or suffered a major injury on a stadium project.

The coffin of a dead Nepalese construction worker arrives at Kathmandu Airport. Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan
A computer generated image of the 'Lusail' stadium being built in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup Credit: Balkis Press/ABACA

Qatar also cites a major report published in medical journal The Lancet in 2012 - which it says shows around 400 deaths might be expected from the country's migrant population each year from cardiovascular disease alone - even if they had stayed in their native countries.

The country's labour and social affairs minister, Dr Abdullah bin Saleh al-Khulaifi, confirmed last month that 194 Nepalese people were killed in the country during 2014, but did not explain how they died or if they were working on infrastructure projects.

He claimed the media had inflated the total number of reported migrant worker deaths from countries such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

Critics, though, say that figures cited in the media are actually likely to underestimate the death toll.

As the 2022 deadline approaches for the delivery of the stadiums, hotels, public transport, roads, utilities and all the other things required to host the World Cup, the pressure on an already exhausted workforce is growing.

– Ambet Yuson, General Secretary of the BWI global construction workers union

Mustafa Qadri, Gulf migrant rights researcher at Amnesty International told ITV News: "There is no question that too many migrant workers have died in Qatar, regardless of the cause."

Credit: PA
Nepalese workers at a crowded camp in Doha. Credit: ITV News

Campaigners point out that deaths are not all the international community should be concerned about.

Last year, ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine visited a Nepalese camp where men slept 18 to a room with no air conditioning.

He found men complaining of rotten food that made them sick, with all those spoken to saying they knew of colleagues who had died in accidents, through overwork or illness.

In addition, some migrants are said to be held ransom by the country's "kafala" system, which ties workers contractually to their employers.

Employers also have control over the workers’ movements as staff have to obtain exit-permits before leaving the country, which can potentially lead to them being exploited or abused.

Hundreds of thousands of workers face a range of abuses, from forced labour to exploitation and trafficking.

Domestic workers aren't even recognised by Qatar's labour law yet are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

– Gulf migrant rights researcher, Amnesty International

There are also questions about the speed of progress, despite Qatar's previous assurances that conditions for migrant workers would be improved.

Concerns have continually been raised over the ill treatment of construction workers in Qatar Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

Qadri notes that Amnesty International and the United Nations Special Rapporteur have called on Qatar to carry out a "thorough, independent investigation into the leading causes of migrant worker deaths and identify key measures to address these".

"As far as we are aware that has not been adequately carried out yet," he adds.

The DLA Piper report, commissioned by Qatar, also made a series of recommendations that the government promised to implement when it was published in April 2014. However, to date they have not yet been carried out.

Amnesty International has urged Qatar carry out the following reforms in its report No Extra Time: How Qatar is still failing on workers' rights ahead of the World Cup.

It recommends that leaders:

  • Abolish exit-permits that give employers control over migrant workers’ movements
  • Change the sponsorship or “kafala” system- which ties workers to their employers and encourages forced labour.
  • Drop prohibitive fees for workers to raise court cases against employers
  • Publish the names of exploitative recruiters and employers
  • Grant domestic workers the legal protection of labour rights afforded to other workers.
Migrant workers line-up to get permits to travel Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

Qatar's Ministry of Labour issued a statement claiming work to reform labour laws to try to improve living and pay conditions for foreign workers had already begun.

Qatar’s rapid economic growth provides jobs for more than 1.5 million foreign workers. We believe that the people helping us build our country deserve to be fairly paid, humanely treated and protected against exploitation.

Many come from very poor countries, and the opportunity to work in Qatar makes an enormous difference to them and their families. Last year, more than $11 billion (£7bn) in wages was sent by migrant workers back to their home countries.

However, while the vast majority of workers in Qatar are fairly treated, we recognise that a minority are not. That is why we are reforming labour laws and practices, such as the kafala system, and introduced a wage protection system that ensures employees’ wages are electronically transferred to their bank accounts within seven days.

Companies who violate these rules face substantial fines and jail. It is illegal to withhold workers’ passports in Qatar and we recently increased fines to employers who do so, to 50,000 Riyals (£9,000). Qatar has also resolved to improve the living conditions of migrant workers.

New laws have increased the minimum accommodation space per worker by 50 per cent. We have improved health and safety requirements, including mandating the provision of a full-time, onsite nurse in every site that houses 100 workers or more; and we are constructing new, top quality housing for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Different statistics have been reported in relation to the death rate of migrant workers in Qatar and we welcome the opportunity to set the record straight on this point. Media reports claiming worker deaths on World Cup sites are simply incorrect. There have been no fatalities on World Cup project sites.

We understand we have much more to do, we have much to learn and we are determined to be a model for labour reform in the region. But we have resolved to deliver meaningful, positive change for the country of Qatar and for the people who are helping us build it, and we will.

– Ministry of Labour, Qatar