As Qatar is set to host the 2022 World Cup, the working conditions of those building the stadiums are brought into light.
Everyone is talking about the effect of Qatar’s extreme heat one few hundred footballers,” said Unmesh Upadhyaya, General Secretary of the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions, “but they are ignoring the hardships, blood and sweat of thousands of migrant workers, who will be building the World Cup stadiums in shifts that can last eight times the length of a football match” (Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’ The Guardian, Pete Pattisson, 2013)
As Qatar begins to prepare for the 2022 World Cup, we ask ourselves: what is the human and social cost of an international event of this scale? Who pays the price for an entire city to be built in such a small time frame? The city emerging will be a combination of hotels, shops and swimming pools and most importantly – a 90,000-seater football stadium. The construction plan will not be cheap, in fact, the new Lusail City development will cost $45 billion (£28 billion) to be created. Yet, at such expense, many labourers are likely to see little of the money; in many cases, migrant workers are forced to work without a wage.
In the last couple of years, hundred of thousands of men have been recruited from Nepal and neighbouring countries to work in Qatar to support the development of the country’s infrastructure. Despite Qatar’s wealth and its status as one of the richest countries of the world, it continues to fail to meet the minimum standards of labour conditions, twelve hour working shifts and sometimes little or no food, one might ask: why do labourers not just pack their bags and run away? Unfortunately, the working environment in Qatar is one where employers and contractors have migrant labourers hanging by a thread.
Due to the informal nature of the work, it is easy for employers to withhold labourer’s wages. As a result, workers remain on the site for months, enduring long hours and unbearable heat in the hope of finally being paid.
Many migrants begin their jobs in Qatar with high debts to pay, as a result of recruitment and travel fees charged to them by employers. This places them in a situation of debt bondage.
Migrants’ travel document and passports are often confiscated by employers and managers, forcing migrants to remain on working sites. Without their documents, workers are ‘illegal immigrants’ who face deportation back to their home country.
The state-run Kafala sponsorship system prevents migrants from leaving the conditions of forced labour. The Kafala system makes it illegal for migrants to move from their initial place of work and to seek employment elsewhere.
The need to repay debts, the withholding of wages, the confiscation of ID documents and the tied employer-employee relationship: all of these factors amount to no other option for the migrant but to remain and work in appalling working conditions.
Many labourers have reported having been denied water in the scorching heat. Other have spoken about their desolate, dirty housing conditions, cramped sleeping conditions that place twelve individuals to a room. Sitting in their hometowns in Nepal, migrant workers were promised opportunity and the future in Qatar and residency in a rich prosperous country. The conditions they encountered are very different to the employment dream they had been promised.
The exploitation of workers in Qatar currently affects almost 1.5 million migrant workers. The migrant population is so substantial in Qatar that it now makes up 90% of the country’s labour employment. The country’s economy and industrial development has become entirely reliant on the coercion of migrant labourers form poor, poverty stricken areas where communities of people are readily available to exploit.
The UN has given Qatar until March 2017 to end migrant worker slavery. If Qatar does not make the necessary steps to improve labour condition and working environments it will be face with a United Nations investigation. If carried out, the enquiry will make Qatar the 5th every country to face formal investigation by the UN’s International Labour Organisation.
Furthermore, Qatar has faced international pressure to put an end to their state-led Kafala system, the system in which workers are bound to the power and authorities of their sponsored employer. To ensure lasting change, protection measures need to be put in place to ensure that migrant workers do not have their passports and papers confiscated and are not bound by agency and recruitment debts. Throughout 2017, Qatar must look at ways in which the development of a new city can be an uplifting and empowering process for native citizens and migrant populations alike; learning to respect the working rights and humanity of their migrant labour force.