Following the publication of an opinion piece by elected officials and NGOs denouncing the working conditions on construction sites of the future football World Cup, Sheikh Thamer Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Deputy Director of the Government Communications Office of the State of Qatar, considers these criticisms to be unfounded or poorly-founded.
Above all, according to him, the authors are ignoring the labour reforms in his country.
In response to an article published in the French newspaper “Le Monde”, the Deputy Director of the Government Communications Office of the State of Qatar added that in just under 500 days, the 2022 World Cup will begin in Qatar. It will be the first time that football’s flagship event will be hosted by an Arab country and in the Middle East, and thus an opportunity to dispel recurring stereotypes and misconceptions about the region. It will also be an opportunity to promote cultural exchanges and bring a message of hope and unity to our turbulent region.
While for millions of people the World Cup in Qatar will be a cause for celebration, at a time when the world emerges from the clutches of the Covid-19 pandemic, this vision is not universally accepted. For some, Qatar is not a worthy host, with criticism centred around the important issue of workers’ rights.
He said that it was therefore not surprising to see an article published in Le Monde on 26 June criticising working conditions in Qatar Under the title: “World Cup 2022: ‘We should not have to count the deaths caused by the construction of a World Cup’”, which criticised work conditions in the State of Qatar.
Sheikh Thamer Bin Hamad Al-Thani emphasised that the article is full of inaccuracies and distortions, refusing to acknowledge the positive impact of labour reforms in Qatar for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and their families.
Three work-related deaths on construction sites
Sheikh Thamer Bin Hamad Al-Thani emphasised that Qatar has never shied away from fact-based criticism and have repeatedly acknowledged that there are areas left to improve. Labour reforms in Qatar are set for the long-term and the result of an unwavering desire for change that existed long before the World Cup was awarded.
He said that we remain resolute in the face of criticism and when an article misleads readers and ignores the realities on the ground, it is our responsibility to respond with facts. If the authors of the op-ed really wanted to understand the truth, a quick online search would reveal the many opportunities our government has seized to respond to the Guardian’s inaccurate claims that 6,500 workers from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have died since 2011 working on the construction sites of the stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.
He also emphasised that this accusation is totally false. There are currently 1.4 million foreign nationals living in Qatar and only 20% of them are employed on construction sites. The remaining 80% include teachers, doctors, accountants, bankers and professionals working in offices and shops. Less than 10% of all deaths in the last seven years have involved people employed in the construction sector, with only three deaths related to work on World Cup sites. The Guardian article paints a stereotypical representation of the professional occupations of expatriates in our country and ignores these critical points.
Qatar has adopted a collaborative approach
Deputy Director of the Government Communications Office of the State of Qatar said that Qatar makes every effort to prevent the loss of life in our country as evidenced by the fact that Qatar has one of the lowest Covid-19 mortality rates in the world. The mortality rate of the expatriate population in Qatar has always been within the expected range given the size and demographics of the population. Over the past decade, this figure has steadily decreased due to the health and safety programmes we have put in place.
He said that the authors of the article published in Le Monde make no mention of this fact, and no reference to the many laws and enforcement measures put in place by Qatar to prevent exploitation by certain companies. Contrary to their claims, passport confiscation is now sanctioned with a heavy fine and imprisonment for repeated offenders, while working hours during the hottest summer months have been adjusted. Infringing companies have been shut down, and new courts have been created to speed up workers’ access to justice.
He noted that as in all countries, the labour system in Qatar is not perfect and that we are still working hard to achieve the ambitious standards we have set. However, progress is being made. To take the necessary steps, Qatar has adopted a collaborative approach and has partnered with many international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), trade unions and NGOs, to successfully carry out its reforms.
Illegal activities will not be tolerated
He said that the ILO, for example, established its first regional project office in Qatar in 2018. Thanks to its input and support, Qatar has established a set of reforms including the removal of barriers to job change for workers, the introduction of a non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first of its kind in the region, a free health service, and new health and safety standards on housing and work sites. Qatar has also introduced a stronger legal system to protect workers from abusive employers and recruiters.
He added: “For these reforms, and the many others introduced by Qatar, to be effective, companies must also be held accountable for their actions. With new laws and stricter enforcement measures in place, we are on the path to winning the battle against those companies that thought they could bypass the law. Our government is sending a clear message: illegal activities will not be tolerated.
Qatar continues to pursue its reform agenda
In the opinion piece, Sheikh Thamer Bin Hamad Al-Thani emphasised that the partnerships established over the past decade with the ILO and other groups will continue long after the World Cup is over.
The task of reforms has not been easy, and more challenges lie ahead. But we are ready to meet them and we hope that our perseverance will inspire other countries in the region to do the same. Qatar’s objective has always been for the 2022 World Cup to create a positive legacy for our country and the region. In addition to the initiatives related to sustainability, healthy lifestyles, education and economic cooperation, labour reform is a major component of this legacy.
He called on all those interested in workers’ rights, including those working in politics and football, to learn more about the steps Qatar is taking to reform its labour laws, and how these changes are bringing tangible benefits to the people who live and work here. Despite the malicious criticism, Qatar continues undaunted in pursuing its reform agenda and will leave a legacy for millions to enjoy.