Qatar’s Workers Need a Real Trade Union, Not a Fake One

The International Trade Union Confederation has agreed to a meeting with the Qatari Labour Minister to outline the conditions for free and independent trade unions and allow the huge migrant workforce to set up their own genuine trade unions.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, will meet with Qatar’s Labour Minister on 11 June at the ILO’s annual conference.
“We will set out for Qatar’s Labour Minister the legal steps the government needs to take to ensure freedom of association and collective bargaining for its huge migrant workforce,” said Sharan Burrow.

Qatar announced last week that the government itself will “set up” a union, but has previously said that workers would not be allowed to elect representatives from their own ranks.

“”No government can impose on workers their elected representatives, and still have the international respect that comes from having genuine trade unions. Labour laws introduced in Qatar should be in line with international standards as set out by the ILO.

The law needs to allow workers the right to form and join their own unions, and freely elect their own representatives without the government dictating who they can vote for,” said Sharan Burrow.
The latest move from the Qatari authorities comes amid mounting international pressure to act on labour rights ahead of the 2022 football world cup.

The Gulf state’s hopes to stage the Olympics in 2020 were dealt a blow last week after the International Olympic Committee rejected Qatar’s bid citing workforce risk and extreme heat.
The IOC’s evaluation of Doha’s Olympics bid stated “training and accommodating an experienced Olympic Games workforce to deliver this infrastructure within the required timeframe presents a major challenge and risk”.

The ITUC has committed to run an international campaign “No Labour Rights – No World Cup” in a bid to ensure that hundreds of thousands of workers in Qatar get their rights at work.

Earlier this month Sharan Burrow met with Nepalese workers who had just returned from Qatar.

“I spoke to young men forced to work in 40-degree heat for slave wages. They were angry that they had their rights taken away from them the moment they landed in Qatar to start work. We need tough laws that give workers their rights, and protects their wages, conditions and their lives,” said Sharan Burrow.

Nepalese embassy statistics from January – October 2011 show
- 13 migrant workers committed suicide; and
- 22 work-related deaths were documented and a further 92 “unexplained”.

Appalling living conditions in labour camps, low wage levels and late payment of wages are common for the more than one million migrant workers, most of whom are in the construction sector building facilities for the World Cup and other major projects.

“Many more workers are at risk in Qatar, unless labour laws that meet ILO international standards are put in place to protect them,” said Sharan Burrow.