Update November 2017 - Qatar agrees to key campaign demands!
After years of campaigning, in which Irish trade union supporters of Playfair Ireland played their part, Qatar appears to have done the right thing. In a potentially ground-breaking deal, the Government of Qatar has agreed wide-ranging reforms of its reviled kafala system – indeed, almost four years after they promised its abolition, it seems kafala’s time is finally over.
The reforms include measures to end the worst abuses in the country. A minimum wage will end the race-based system of payments that discriminated against workers from poorer countries. Crucially, employers will lose control over their employees’ right to leave the country, removing a much-abused power over workers’ lives. The government will also register all contracts to prevent the scam where workers are duped into low-skill, low pay jobs by employers offering them something better and then switching contracts on arrival.
With these abuses dealt with, serious progress on making Qatar’s construction sites safer can be made.
As the TUC's Stephen Russell says: "We have no doubt that the current regional dispute tipped the balance here, but our pressure made this decision possible. Keeping workers’ rights so firmly in the spotlight made it the most obvious monkey for Qatar to shake off its back. Now countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, having used this issues in their own propaganda war, need to take a long, hard look at their own labour laws.
This time last year, the BWI – the global construction union federation – made a deal that showed the Qataris that the international unions were a potential ally, not a threat. Although there is so much more still to do, BWI inspections of stadium sites helped raise the standards and increase local understanding of international practice; conditions away from World Cup stadia sometimes remain in need of urgent intervention. They have since signed an agreement with with QDVC (a Qatari shareholding company with two shareholders: Qatari Diar Real Estate Investments Company and VINCI Construction Grands Projects) and VINCI, a French-based global player in concessions and construction.
The international coalition of campaigns – including the hard-hitting work of the ITUC in public and its less obvious negotiating behind the scenes, but also the excellent research from Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and an array of journalists, including the Irish Times and Guardian – appears to have succeeded in the unlikeliest of missions. Qatar, with one of the most rotten human rights records in the world, has suddenly signed up to a series of reforms that will elevate rights for workers above all its regional rivals.
What is clear from this deal is just how much the constant pressure over conditions for workers, especially in the context of the World Cup, was hurting Qatar. It wanted its moment of footballing glory to burnish its standing in the world, not burn it down. Campaigns like ours, and others around the world, firmly establishing a connection between the 2022 FIFA World Cup and modern slavery, made it absolutely clear that they wouldn’t get the glory unless they made concessions.
IT’S NOT UTOPIA, BUT IT MAY NO LONGER BE PURGATORY FOR WORKERS.
In the fight to fix the abuses of human rights, Qatar’s biggest problem was its inability to open up. The control freakery of the government made it insensate to the wisdom of working with international partners. As well as the legal changes that could protect workers, it is the potential for openness that brings the greatest cause for optimism. A dedicated International Labour Organisation (ILO) office in a country that tried to block a high-level ILO mission just last year is a major step forward. So too is a legal tweak that will make it perfectly acceptable for companies to make deals with global union federations, and there’s a promise of worker committees – including elected reps – in every workplace, too. Qatar’s workers may not have the full freedom to organise their own unions – yet – but they will, for the first time, be able to access union support and advice, and we should expect to see campaigning shifting to putting pressure on firms profiting from Qatar’s construction frenzy to make such deals with global unions.
It was always in Qatar’s interests to do this: it’s taken them too long to see it for themselves, but the shift is welcome. To make (yet) another Schrödinger’s Qatar joke, until we observe their compliance or otherwise they are simultaneously doing the right thing and spinning us a line, but the scale of the promises is so great it’s hard to see them wriggling out of them this time even if they wanted to. Enlightened self-interest was always going to be the only way to get real change. Qatar’s self-interest was never in doubt; it is, perhaps, at last enlightened.
We think that Qatar means it this time; the fact that we have to say “this time” is why we won’t be going away just yet. There are almost 2 million foreign workers in Qatar who still don’t have the right to join a union, and are reliant on international pressure to get access to their own human rights. But – again assuming the promises are kept – what’s different now is that we will be able to urge the Government of Qatar to do better, and not simply demand it stops being the worst. It might seem like a small distinction, but it has the potential to be the start of something huge.
Those Promises (via the ITUC)
- Employment contracts will be lodged with a government authority to prevent contract substitution, ending the practice of workers arriving in the country only to have their contract torn up and replaced with a different job, often on a lower wage.
- Employers will no longer be able to stop their employees from leaving the country.
- A minimum wage will be prescribed as a base rate covering all workers, ending the race-based system of wages.
- Identification papers will be issued directly by the State of Qatar, and workers will no longer rely on their employer to provide their ID card without which workers can be denied medical treatment.
- Workers’ committees will be established in each workplace, with workers electing their own representatives.
- A special disputes resolution committee with a timeframe for dealing with grievances will be a centerpiece for ensuring rapid remedy of complaints.
Decision to drop the complaint on Qatar was taken at the ILO Governing Body meeting this month. Ireland is a member of this body.
Update 9 February 2017: Congress has written to Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor, seeking Irish Government support for calls on the ILO to establish a Commission of Inquiry into Qatar.
More than 7,000 workers will die preparing Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, according to estimates based on Qatar’s own records. Each game will have cost the lives more than 100 workers. If this isn’t stopped will you still want to watch? Qatar’s World Cup is being built on the back of modern slavery. Qatar’s laws mean workers preparing the country to host the tournament are effectively owned by their employers. They are housed in squalid accommodation, go unpaid for months and have to work on lethal construction sites. Worst of all, they can’t leave their jobs, even when their lives are at risk and their contract is torn up and replaced with one offering far less money: employers can trap them in the country, forcing them to put up with terrible treatment and breaching their human rights.
FIFA claims it “can’t change the world,” - but it can, and should, force its World Cup hosts to play by the rules.
To date, almost 1,400 World Cup workers have died in Qatar and many have been injured.
Workers are paid as little as 62 cent an hour and some employers withhold wages.
World Cup workers in Qatar are unable to join unions and stand up for each other. Workers have to hand over their passports and need permission from their employersbefore they can leave Qatar.
FIFA has said the 1,400 who have died so far are not its responsibility and is refusing to blow the whistle on Qatar to improve its human rights record.
Amnesty International have released a report (31st March 2016) into continuing abuses in Qatar. They have also launched an online action calling on FIFA to act and for its sponsors to add pressure to do so and have asked us to promote it.
The report uses repeat contact with two groups of workers, one involved in an official World Cup site (The Khalifa Stadium) and the other involved in the landscaping the area around the stadium, which is not classed as an official part of the World Cup building programme (showing how narrowly defined it is), to assess the (lack of) impact of Qatar’s promised reforms to date. The report details the apathetic response of the government of Qatar to the issues raised by the repeat visits, and the failures of due diligence by FIFA. More analysis on the report here
The ILO Governing Body has also discussed the findings of the report of its tripartite delegation to Qatar. The delegation was mandated by the November 2015 meeting of the Governing Body on foot of a complaint from the Workers Group regarding violations of ILO Conventions on Forced Labour and Labour Inspection by Qatar, primarily in regard to migrant workers employed on building infrastructure for the World Cup 2022. The ILO has since issued an ultimatum to Qatar. Guardian report .
Take Action Now!
We need football fans and people from across Ireland to tell Qatar that enough is enough! If this issue makes you angry why not organise an event to raise awareness among soccer fans on the island of Ireland using this leaflet. Contact you local Trades Council or just get in touch with Congress for information and leaflets which you can encourage fans to take a campaign selfie and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com or tweet it using the @playfairirl and #PlayfairQatar
You can see pics from previous actions here
Sponsors Action: Congress cooperated with unions internationally to urge FIFA’s main sponsors for the Qatar 2022 World Cup ahead of the FIFA congress at the end of June 2015 in Zurich. We’re trying to make the case that the sponsors’ corporate social responsibility policies should apply not just to their supply chains, but also to events they are paying for. If a major sponsor issued a statement of concern it would have a huge effect and embarrass the FIFA leadership ahead of Sepp Blatter’s almost certain re-election.
The email action is here and let you send a letter to 6 main sponsors. The action had some impact with the ITUC, Campaign Groups, welcoming Coca Cola and VISA Calls for Independent FIFA Reform in July
We are a sister organisation of PlayfairQatar in the UK.
Congress Blog - FIFA's squalid secret
Sharan Burrow wrote a blog post on the issues here:
Mounting risk of World Cup built on abuse as Qatar fails to deliver reforms - new Amnesty report here
The case against Qatar hosting the world cup in 2022
Qatar amongst 10 worst countries in terms of respect for workers rights - ITUC
ITUC Rerun The Vote campaign
Red Card for FIFA - BWI actions
Whats wrong with working in Qatar?
Promising litte, delivering less - ToUChstone blog