Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said the promise by the Qatar authorities simply to increase the number of labour inspectors is weak and disappointing.
“There are already labour inspectors and they have no impact. What is needed are laws that protect workers’ rights to join a union, bargain collectively and refuse unsafe work, and only then can inspectors do their job.
The laws in Qatar give employers total control over workers so no worker will feel able to speak freely to a labour inspector,” said Sharan Burrow.
In March 2013, the ITUC lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Labour against six Qatari companies after workers contacted the ITUC to document their cases. The Labour Relations Department of the Ministry of Labour in Qatar received 6000 worker complaints in 2012, while the Indian Embassy in Qatar received 1500 complaints in the first five months of this year.
Strict visa sponsorship rules known as the kafala system mean that workers cannot change jobs without their employer’s permission and cannot leave the country unless their employer signs an exit permit. 90% of workers surveyed have their passports held by their employers according to June 2013 research on migrant workers in Qatar in the Journal of Arabian Studies.
New video testimony from marble cutters who provide polished marble for hotels and residences needed for the 2022 World Cup describes long hours and hazardous working conditions. The workers agreed to speak under the condition of anonymity fearing the response of their employer.
“Many workers suffer exploitation for fear of retaliation if they speak out. We have taken the step of lodging a case with the International Labour Organisation describing how Qatar’s work visa system allows employers to use forced labour,” said Sharan Burrow.
The ITUC points to six practices that violate workers’ rights including:
false promises on the nature and type of work by recruiters and sponsors
employer obligations on wages and working conditions not met
contracts entered into prior to departure not respected in Qatar
workers indebted to recruiters or moneylenders who extract high fees
passports withheld by employers
workers forced to live in squalid overcrowded labour camps and denied the right to form unions.
The ILO has established a tripartite committee to review the evidence and make recommendations to the Government of Qatar on how to comply with its international commitments. Last week, a senior ILO official warned that "Many of the abuses that take place which can lead to forced labour are still happening" in Qatar.
In a letter to the ITUC, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has now pledged to put the issue of labour rights on the FIFA Executive Committee agenda when it meets in Zurich on 3-4 October 2013.
“The spotlight is now fully on Qatar’s abhorrent labour practices. It has taken two years to get this far, and pressure will need to be sustained if lives are to be saved and dignity restored. The billions of dollars at stake will see increasing pressure inside and outside of Qatar to stay silent,” said Sharan Burrow.
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