Just days before the kick-off of the Qatar World Cup, the small Gulf state’s Labour Minister Ali Bin Samikh Al-Marri was criticised on Monday (14 November) at the EU Parliament’s human rights committee for the violations of workers’ rights during event preparations.
Some 90% of workers in the country are migrants and are widely reported to suffer from working in inhumane conditions. According to a 2021 investigation by The Guardian, 6500 migrant workers have died since Qatar was awarded the right to hold football’s biggest event.
In a furious speech, Miguel Urbán Crespo of the left group in the parliament called the coming tournament a “World Cup bathed in blood,” while Social Democrat Lara Wolters called it a “World Cup of shame.”
Samira Rafaela of the liberal Renew Europe group criticised the discrimination of women and the criminalisation of homosexuality.
Earlier this month, a Qatari official caused outrage by calling homosexuality “damage in the mind” in an interview with ZDF, a German public broadcaster.
The main focus of the parliamentary hearing, however, was labour rights. Peter van Dalen of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) asked the labour minister to allow a European inspection of the situation.
Al-Marri argued that much progress had been made in recent years, and his past position as head of the national human rights committee was a sign of where the government was headed.
After a 2014 complaint about forced labour by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Qatari government agreed in 2017 to implement changes to its labour law so that migrant workers would not be entirely dependent on their employers.
“It’s only natural that there are difficulties in implementation,” he said, pointing to the substantial changes that were also acknowledged by the representatives of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa), who was also present at the parliamentary hearing.
“Workers have seen remarkable improvements,” deputy general secretary of ITUC-Africa Joel Odigie said about the changes made since 2017, and Max Tuñón of the ILO called the Qatari law regarding heat stress “probably the most progressive in the world.”
Workers are still dying
Meanwhile, Minky Worden of the NGO Human Rights Watch argued that the reforms remained insufficient to prevent abuses. “Human Rights Watch and migrant groups continue to document abuses including wage abuses, illegal recruitment fees, as well as deaths that continue to be uninvestigated and uncompensated,” she said.
“Qatari officials have failed to investigate the deaths of thousands of migrant workers, many of which are attributed to so-called ‘natural causes’,” Worden said. She brought forward the example of a worker who died of a cardiac arrest on a construction site and whose death was classified as having a “natural cause”, meaning that the family would not get any compensation.
A recent investigation by the NGO Equidem showed that workers are often unable to complain about bad working conditions and that employers try to cover up work-related deaths.
Bin Samikh Al Marri lamented what he called a “smear campaign” by the media regarding the labour conditions in Qatar and assured that there would be compensation for the families of workers who died.
“We call upon all the trade unions and human rights organisations if they have names of victims and workers who have not been compensated,” he said.
This might, however, be a difficult task, especially for trade unions, since it is illegal for migrant workers to form or join a trade union.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]