-Pate Pattisson, The Guardian
Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.
This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.
According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.
The investigation also reveals:
• Evidence of forced labour on a huge World Cup infrastructure project.
• Some Nepalese men have alleged that they have not been paid for months and have had their salaries retained to stop them running away.
• Some workers on other sites say employers routinely confiscate passports and refuse to issue ID cards, in effect reducing them to the status of illegal aliens.
• Some labourers say they have been denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat.
• About 30 Nepalese sought refuge at their embassy in Doha to escape the brutal conditions of their employment.
The allegations suggest a chain of exploitation leading from poor Nepalese villages to Qatari leaders. The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world’s most popular sporting tournament.
“We’d like to leave, but the company won’t let us,” said one Nepalese migrant employed at Lusail City development, a $45bn (£28bn) city being built from scratch which will include the 90,000-seater stadium that will host the World Cup final. “I’m angry about how this company is treating us, but we’re helpless. I regret coming here, but what to do? We were compelled to come just to make a living, but we’ve had no luck.”
The body tasked with organising the World Cup, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, told the Guardian that work had yet to begin on projects directly related to the World Cup. However, it said it was “deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors working on Lusail City’s construction site and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness”. It added: “We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations.”
The Guardian’s investigation also found men throughout the wider Qatari construction industry sleeping 12 to a room in places and getting sick through repulsive conditions in filthy hostels. Some say they have been forced to work without pay and left begging for food.
“We were working on an empty stomach for 24 hours; 12 hours’ work and then no food all night,” said Ram Kumar Mahara, 27. “When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers.”
Almost all migrant workers have huge debts from accrued in order to pay recruitment agents for their jobs. The obligation to repay these debts, combined with the non-payment of wages, confiscation of documents and inability of workers to leave their place of work, constitute forced labour, a form of modern-day slavery estimated to affect up to 21 million people across the globe. So entrenched is this exploitation that the Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma,
“The evidence uncovered by the Guardian is clear proof of the use of systematic forced labour in Qatar,” said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, which was founded in 1839. “In fact, these working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labour to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects. There is no longer a risk that the World Cup might be built on forced labour. It is already happening.”
Qatar has the highest ratio of migrant workers to domestic population in the world: more than 90% of the workforce are immigrants and the country is expected to recruit up to 1.5 million more labourers to build the stadiums, roads, ports and hotels needed for the tournament. Nepalese account for about 40% of migrant labourers in Qatar. More than 100,000 Nepalese left for the emirate last year.
The murky system of recruitment brokers in Asia and labour contractors in Qatar leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. The supreme committee has insisted that decent labour standards will be set for all World Cup contracts, but underneath it a complex web of project managers, construction firms and labour suppliers, employment contractors and recruitment agents operate.
According to some estimates, Qatar will spend $100bn on infrastructure projects to support the World Cup. As well as nine state-of-the-art stadiums, the country has committed to $20bn worth of new roads, $4bn for a causeway connecting Qatar to Bahrain, $24bn for a high-speed rail network, and 55,000 hotel rooms to accommodate visiting fans and has almost completed a new airport.
The World Cup is part of an even bigger programme of construction in Qatar designed to remake the tiny desert kingdom over the next two decades. Qatar has yet to start building stadiums for 2022, but has embarked on the big infrastructure projects likesuch as Lusail City that, according to the US project managers, Parsons, “will play a major role during the 2022 . The British engineering company Halcrow, part of the CH2M Hill group, is a lead consultant on the Lusail project responsible for “infrastructure design and construction supervision”. CH2M Hill was recently appointed the official programme management consultant to the supreme committee. It says it has a “zero tolerance policy for the use of forced labour and other human trafficking practices”.
Halcrow said: “Our supervision role of specific construction packages ensures adherence to site contract regulation for health, safety and environment. The terms of employment of a contractor’s labour force is not under our direct purview.”
Some Nepalese working at Lusail City tell desperate stories. They are saddled with huge debts they are paying back at interest rates of up to 36%, yet say they are forced to work without pay.
“The company has kept two months’ salary from each of us to stop us running away,” said one man who gave his name as SBD and who works at the Lusail City marina. SBD said he was employed by a subcontractor that supplies labourers for the project. Some workers say their subcontrator has confiscated their passports and refused to issue the ID cards they are entitled to under Qatari law. “Our manager always promises he’ll issue [our cards] ‘next week’,” added a scaffolder who said he had worked in Qatar for two years without being given an ID card.
Without official documentation, migrant workers are in effect reduced to the status of illegal aliens, often unable to leave their place of work without fear of arrest and not entitled to any legal protection. Under the state-run kafala sponsorship system, workers are also unable to change jobs or leave the country without their sponsor company’s permission.
A third worker, who was equally reluctant to give his name for fear of reprisal, added: “We’d like to leave, but the company won’t let us. If we run away, we become illegal and that makes it hard to find another job. The police could catch us at any time and send us back home. We can’t get a resident permit if we leave.”
Other workers said they were forced to work long hours in temperatures of up to 50C (122F) without access to drinking water.
The Qatari labour ministry said it had strict rules governing working in the heat, the provision of labour and the prompt payment of salaries.
“The ministry enforces this law through periodic inspections to ensure that workers have in fact received their wages in time. If a company does not comply with the law, the ministry applies penalties and refers the case to the judicial authorities.”
Lusail Real Estate Company said: “Lusail City will not tolerate breaches of labour or health and safety law. We continually instruct our contractors and their subcontractors of our expectations and their contractual obligations to both us and individual employees. The Guardian have highlighted potentially illegal activities employed by one subcontractor. We take these allegations very seriously and have referred the allegations to the appropriate authorities for investigation. Based on this investigation, we will take appropriate action against any individual or company who has found to have broken the law or contract with us.”
The workers’ plight makes a mockery of concerns for the 2022 footballers.
“Everyone is talking about the effect of Qatar’s extreme heat on a few hundred footballers,” said Umesh Upadhyaya, general secretary of the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions. “But they are ignoring the hardships, blood and sweat of thousands of migrant workers, who will be building the World Cup stadiums in shifts that can last eight times the length of a football match.”
Qatar World Cup ‘slaves’: the official response
The company behind the Lusail City development, Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organising committee and the labour ministry respond to allegations of worker exploitation
Mona Mohmood, theguardian.com
Lusail City will not tolerate breaches of labour or health and safety law. We continually instruct our contractors and their subcontractors of our expectations and their contractual obligations to both us and individual employees.
We are extremely concerned at the allegations highlighted to us. Lusail employs, directly and via subcontractors, over 20,000 people. We value each employee.
All of our subcontractors are legally obliged to meet, as a minimum, Qatar labour law. In addition, Lusail expects our subcontractors to go beyond the law in the protection of individual employees both in health & safety and labour law.
The vast majority of contractors exceed these requirements and are delivering global best practice.
The Guardian have highlighted potentially illegal activities employed by one subcontractor. We take these allegations very seriously and have referred the allegations to the appropriate authorities for investigation. Based on this investigation, we will take appropriate action against any individual or company who has found to have broken the law or contract with us.
A company spokesperson
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee (Q22) is deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors working on Lusail City’s construction site and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness. We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations.
While construction on work relating directly to the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar has not yet commenced, we have always believed that hosting the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar could be the catalyst for positive change, particularly for accelerating human and social development in Qatar. We firmly believe that all workers engaged on our projects, and those of the other infrastructure developers in Qatar, have a right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their wellbeing, safety, security, and dignity. This is our top priority as we begin to deliver on the promises made in our bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar.
The Qatar 2022 Workers’ Charter is available to the public and is provided to all of our potential contractors. Q22’s Workers’ Charter is just the first step in our overall strategy for improving workers’ welfare in Qatar.
Clauses protecting the rights of workers on Q22 projects will be enshrined in our contracts and will supplement all relevant Qatari laws by taking additional steps that Q22 has identified in order to enhance the welfare of our workers. We are driven by transparency in setting up our standards, which will include a robust enforcement and monitoring mechanism.
We are working with international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. We also maintain an open channel of dialogue with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on these issues, via close consultation with the Ministry of Labour and other relevant government agencies.
Q22 is also working with Qatar’s Human Rights Co-ordination Committee (QHRCC) which consists of representatives from Q22, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Labour, Qatar Foundation for Human Trafficking, Qatar Foundation for Child and Women Protection, the Follow up and Search Unit of the Ministry of Interior, and the National Human Rights Committee. We are committed with the government to address these issues.
Answers to the Guardian’s questions to the Qatar labour ministry
Are the authorities aware of the numbers of Nepalese dying on their construction sites?
According to article 48 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “The employer shall record injuries incurred by any of its employees.”
According to article 108 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “If the worker dies while on duty or because of the work or sustains a work injury the employer or his representative shall immediately notify the police and the department of the incident.
“The notification shall include the name, age, profession, address and nationality of the worker and a brief description of the incident, the circumstance where it took place and the actions taken for aiding or curing the worker.
“The police shall upon receipt of the information undertake the necessary enquiries and the record shall contain the statements of the witnesses and the employer or his representative and the statements of the injured if his condition so permits and the record shall explain the relationship of the incident to the work.
“The police shall upon completion of the inquiry send a copy of the record to the department and a copy to the employer. The Department may require completion of the enquiry if it deems necessary.”
According to article 115 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “The employer shall every six months provide the department with a statistics of the work injuries and occupational diseases in accordance with the forms prepared for this purpose and the procedures to be prescribed by a decision of the minister.
According to article 105 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “The periodical medical check-ups shall be carried out on the workers exposed to the dangers of inflication with the vocational diseases in all activities of the work at intervals appropriate to the hazards involved in the work in accordance with the measures to be specified by the competent authorities specifying the types of such check-ups and the intervals in which they shall be carried out.
“The employer shall keep the results of these check-ups in the files concerning the workers. If the results of the check-up shows the infliction of the worker with one of the occupational diseases the employer shall notify the department thereof within three days from the date of his knowing the result of the check-up.”
Why do so many young Nepalese die of heart attacks?
This question would be better suited for the relevant health authorities or the government of Nepal.
Why do some building sites refuse to offer free water to workers?
All building sites in Qatar are required by Law to provide free water to workers.
This is a requirement under Qatari Labour Law.
According to article 103 of Qatar Labour Law No.14 of 2004: “The employer shall take the measures capable of securing the hygiene and good ventilation in the places of work and shall provide it with the suitable lighting and potable water, hygiene and drainage, in accordance with the regulations and decisions to be issued by the competent authorities in this respect.”
According to article 106 of Qatar Labour Law No.14 of 2004: “The employers employing workers in locations distant from the cities and to which the usual means of transportation are not available shall provide them with the following services:
1. Suitable means of transportation or suitable accommodation or both.
2. Potable water
3. Suitable foodstuff or the means of obtaining thereof.
The said locations shall be specified by a decision of the minister.”
Does Qatar allow workers to stop working if temperature rises above 45C?
Under the ministerial decree No. 16 of 2007, the working hours were limited in the open places under the sun during the summer period and the Department of Labour prevented the employment of the workers for more than five hours in the morning and it must not exceed 11.30 am as well as the evening working hours must not start before 3pm.
The resolution was made applicable from 15 June to 31 August of each year. The ministerial resolution warned that the offenders shall be treated in accordance with the law. This distinctive resolution also demands the need to intensify the regulatory campaigns and take the deterrent measures against the violating employers.
The resolution obligated the employers to place a timetable for daily working hours at the work place in accordance with this resolution. The time table must be put in an open place, so that all workers can know the same and labour inspectors can easily note it during their inspection visits. The resolution decided to close the workplace which does not take these provisions into the account for a period not exceeding one month and the closure shall be effective by a decision of the minister.
The Department of Labour in the Ministry of Labour shall pay the inspectors on visits to monitor the commitment of the owners of enterprises and institutions under the labour law to the ministerial resolution.
Why do some employers remove passports from Nepalese, hold back wages, and refuse to issue them with ID cards?
According to article 66 of Qatar Labour Law No.14 of 2004: “The wages of workers employed on an annual or monthly basis are to be paid once every month. All other workers are to be paid every two weeks.’
Furthermore, the ministry enforces this law through periodic inspections to ensure that workers have in fact received their wages in time. If a company does not comply with the law, the ministry applies penalties against the company in question and refers the case to the judicial authorities. The ministry provides the opportunity for workers to submit their grievances to the Department of Labour Relations through a dedicated “hotline” and email. The ministry has also established a dedicated office to assist workers with following-up on any cases that have been submitted to the judicial authorities.
According to Article 9 of Qatar’s Sponsorship Law No. 4 of 2009, the employer is required to return a worker’s passport upon completion of immigration procedures, which result in the issuance of an identification card. Any employer that violates this law is penalised through a fine of no more than QR 10,000.
Does Qatar treat its foreign workers fairly?
The Ministry of Labour is committed to ensuring that all workers are treated in a fair and just manner.
Halcrow (Consulting Engineers & Architects Ltd)
Halcrow (Consulting Engineers & Architects Ltd) is contracted as one of the infrastructure design and construction supervision consultants. Our supervision role of specific construction packages ensures adherence to site contract regulation for health, safety and environment.
The terms of employment of a contractor’s labour force is not under our direct purview.
We, at Halcrow, ensure that our staff are compensated fairly according to industry standards and are provided with training on skills necessary to conduct their work efficiently, including training on health, safety and sustainability.
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