World Cup Stadium Workers ‘Had Their Money Stolen and Lives Ruined’, Says Rights Group

SPORTS, 21 Nov 2022

Pete Pattisson | The Guardian - TRANSCEND Media Service

Report on conditions in Qatar alleges labour abuses are widespread and calls on FIFA to set up compensation fund.

10 Nov 2022 – Migrant workers who constructed stadiums for the World Cup in Qatar have endured “persistent and widespread labour rights violations”, which include nationality-based discrimination, illegal recruitment practices and, in some cases, unpaid wages, according to allegations in a new report by the human rights group Equidem.

While the report also documents a number of cases of good practice, including “adequate channels for reporting concerns with working conditions”, good access to healthcare, satisfactory safety measures and decent living conditions, Equidem’s findings conclude that Qatar has been a “hostile environment” for stadium workers.

It claims that many of the workers interviewed for its report faced severe exploitation and were forced to work in a culture of fear and retribution, “sustained through nationality-based discrimination and workplace violence, including physical, verbal, and mental abuse”.

Equidem also alleges that companies working on stadium construction have “actively evaded inspections”, quoting a Nepali worker employed at Lusail stadium, which will host the World Cup final, who told researchers that workers were sent back to their camps before a visit from Fifa.

“Workers started to hide to get a chance to complain to the Fifa group. Then the company started checking if anyone is still on site. If anyone was caught hiding, they were either sent back home or had their salary deducted,” he said in the report.

Unpaid wages, failure to pay for overtime or end-of-service benefits and wages lower than promised were also reported. A Bangladeshi worker employed at a number of stadiums told researchers: “I do not get paid for overtime work and I work from 6am to 6pm seven days a week.”

In 2014 the local World Cup organising committee established a set of “worker welfare standards” to protect workers on its projects,including better worker accommodation, mechanisms to file complaints and a scheme to reimburse workers’ recruitment fees. About £20m has been repaid so far.

More:  Has the World Cup really improved workers’ rights in Qatar? Five experts give their verdict – Pete Pattisson

In recent years, the Qatari authorities have also introduced a number of labour reforms, chiefly the introduction of a minimum wage and the abolition of the kafala, or sponsorship, system.

However, Equidem’s report suggests there were significant shortcomings in the implementation of these measures.

“The fact that such widespread labour abuse persists on worksites so heavily regulated by Qatar, Fifa and their partners, suggests that the reforms undertaken over the last five years have acted as cover for powerful businesses that seek to exploit migrant workers with impunity,” the report said.

The report calls on Fifa to establish a compensation fund for workers who have suffered during the building of the stadiums.

“We estimate thousands of workers are owed remedy for illegal recruitment charges, unpaid wages and other harms. Qatar, Fifa and their partners stand to earn billions from this tournament, yet the workers who built the stadiums have had their money stolen and their lives ruined,” said Mustafa Qadri, Equidem’s executive director. “Fifa can no longer turn a blind eye and should set up a compensation fund immediately.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Fifa said that measures to safeguard the health and wellbeing of World Cup workers, which include regular independent inspections, occupational health and safety measures on site, comprehensive medical checks and projects to address health and Covid-19, have been an important priority.

“The robustness of this programme has been recognised repeatedly by experts and trade unions over the years, reaching the highest international standards in terms of health and safety. We are in contact with our Qatari counterparts to assess the information included in the Equidem report,” Fifa said.

In a statement, Qatar’s supreme committee said that the Equidem report was “littered with inaccuracies and misrepresentations” which undermined its commitment to ensuring the health, safety and dignity of workers on Fifa World Cup 2022 projects.

“Since introducing the workers’ welfare standards in 2014, our efforts have resulted in significant improvements in accommodation standards, health and safety regulations, grievance mechanisms, healthcare provisions, and reimbursement of illegal recruitment fees to workers,” said a spokesperson. “We are committed to delivering the legacy we promised. A legacy that improves lives and lays the foundation for fair, sustainable and lasting labour reforms.

“The supreme committee is transparent about the challenges and progress, accepting constructive criticism, and maintaining dialogue with key stakeholders. The report, released very shortly before the start of the World Cup, is an egregious attempt to undermine and damage the SC’s reputation.”


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Pete Pattisson is a video and photo journalist based in Kathmandu.


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