24 November 2021

Allegations of worker abuse continue to blight Qatar 2022

An investigation by The Guardian and a new Report issued by Amnesty International suggests that despite reforms introduced by the State of Qatar, workers employed in delivering the 2022 FIFA World Cup are still being exploited. The Guardian stayed at seven of the hotels listed on FIFA’s hospitality internet site and spoke with over 40 workers, many of whom were  paid £1 per hour or less. Workers alleged long hours, lack of holiday, plus breaches of Qatar’s labour laws including passport confiscations and recruitment fees that are deducted from worker salaries.

Amnesty International’s 48 page Report, ‘Reality Check 2021’, told a similar story. ‘Although Qatar has repealed a requirement to obtain an exit permit and a “no-objection certificate” from an employer for most migrant workers, allowing them to leave the country and move jobs without seeking their sponsor’s consent, a de facto no-objection certificate process has emerged and problematic elements of kafala remain in place’, read a statement. ‘This includes the ability of abusive employers to block migrant workers’ job transfers and control their legal status’. 

The ‘kafala’ system effectively meant that employers ‘owned’ their workers, and could prevent them from moving jobs or leaving the country. Amnesty’s findings suggest that a 2018 Law introduced to end such practices is not being implemented effectively. This conclusion is disputed by the State of Qatar.

‘The impact of Qatar’s reforms is best highlighted through its numbers’, read a statement. ‘Over 240,000 workers have successfully changed jobs since barriers were removed in September 2020; more than 400,000 have directly benefited from the new minimum wage; improvements to the wage protection system now protect 96% of eligible workers from wage abuse; and hundreds of thousands of workers have left Qatar and returned without permission from their employer since exit permits were abolished.

‘Enforcement too has been strengthened to safeguard workers and prosecute companies that violate the law. Again, the numbers tell the story: 35,280 accommodation and worksite inspections were carried out in the first half of 2021, and 13,724 penalties issued to violating companies’. 

However, Qatar’s case wasn’t helped by the recent arrest of Norwegian journalists who were filming the conditions experienced by migrant workers for NRK. ‘An NRK crew were taken into custody in the early hours of 22 November for trespassing on private property and filming without a permit’, read a statement from Qatar authorities. ‘The authorities arrested the crew after responding to a complaint made by the owner of the private property on which the crew had illegally accessed. The crew were released without charge early on 23 November after completing the necessary legal procedures. The Norwegian embassy and NRK executives were updated on the situation as it progressed.

‘As in almost every country, trespassing is against Qatari law, which the crew members were fully aware of before entering the property. The crew were given access to film wherever they wanted in Qatar. They were provided with all the filming permits they had requested prior to their arrival and were offered meetings with senior government and third-party officials. These freedoms, however, do not override the rule of law, which the crew knowingly and wilfully violated. As a result of these violations, the crew were temporarily detained.’

In 2015, BBC reporters were arrested whilst filming a documentary in Qatar. This closely followed the arrest of a German journalist involved in making a documentary on worker conditions for ARD. In common with the Norwegian team, both the British and German journalists were asked to delete footage by the Qatar authorities.

In May this year, Qatar authorities confirmed that they had arrested Malcolm Bidali, an activist supporting the rights of migrant workers. In August this year, three months after first being charged, the Kenyan journalist was fined and allowed to leave Qatar.

Last week, Amnesty urged a fair trial for Abdullah Ibhais, the former Communications Director for Qatar 2022, who is on hunger strike after appealing a five year conviction on charges of misuse of public funds, bribery, collusion to commit bribery, and causing harm to the Supreme Committee – the body responsible for delivering Qatar 2022. It has been alleged that Ibhais was charged due to his defence of migrant workers in Qatar.

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