Geneva - As Qatar presides over the 111th session of the International Labour Organisation (IOL), it should live up to its responsibilities and promises and lead by example in regard to compensating and protecting the rights of migrant workers in the country, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement on Friday. Six months after holding the World Football Cup, both Qatar and FIFA still have work to do to serve long overdue justice to the workers who made the tournament happen under unsafe circumstances.
On the eve of the 2022 World Cup ceremony, FIFA president Gianni Infantino repeated an earlier promise to free up a percentage of the tournament’s profits in order to compensate migrant workers who suffered abuses and human rights violations in the build-up to or during the World Cup. The State of Qatar similarly claimed that its 2018 Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund would help workers who have not been paid, and that it had already distributed $320 million in 2022 alone through this fund. Labour Minister Ali Al-Marri added that, “If there is a person entitled to compensation who has not received it, they should come forward and we will help them,” even if their cases are over a decade old.
The reality, however, paints a disturbing picture. Legal loopholes, bureaucratic complications, inadequate enforcement, and incomplete protections have hindered the compensation of workers who experienced harsh conditions or various abuses. Commonly experienced issues included significantly delayed or unpaid wages and benefits, long working hours, lack of vacation days, and inadequate housing.
Six months after the World Cup, the situation of migrant workers in Qatar is dire overall. Amid the reported business slowdown in construction sectors, many workers have fallen into abject poverty while waiting to receive their still unpaid wages and end-of-service benefits, be assigned new work, or change jobs. Migrant workers have been left behind—stuck and unable to return to their homes, lest they lose their financial dues.
“It is of utmost necessity to address the plight of struggling migrant workers, especially when FIFA made record profits of $75 billion from the 2022 World Cup and Qatar’s economy grew by a phenomenal 4.8 per cent that year,” said Ramy Abdu, Chairman of Euro-Med Monitor. The Qatari government and FIFA, Abdu asserted, “should shoulder their responsibilities and set a positive example in the protection and promotion of labour rights.”
The Qatari government has officially taken some steps towards improving the working and living conditions of migrants, such as setting a minimum wage; formally abolishing the kafala system; creating rules that are supposed to allow workers to change jobs or leave the country; and improving workers’ access to justice. However, Euro-Med Monitor has documented critical shortfalls in these areas as well as inadequate enforcement of the rules, which only exacerbates the situation of migrant workers.
For instance, 2020 saw the removal of a requirement that workers obtain a “No Objection Certificate” from their existing employers to be able to change jobs, yet many workers are still being asked to obtain a resignation approval letter, which has the same negative impact on their freedom. Workers attempting to leave their jobs also report being subject to retaliation from their employers, who cancel their residency permits or file false “absconding” charges against them. The Qatari Ministries of Interior and Labour say they have taken steps to link their systems, cross-check information, and mitigate retaliations, but more action is urgently needed to stop such abuses.
Amid the reported business slowdown after the World Cup, it is paramount that Qatari authorities make it easier for workers to change jobs or receive their unpaid benefits and salaries as quickly as possible, so as to avoid burdening both workers and employers with unnecessarily long, ill-defined waiting periods. FIFA must also contribute to the compensation of workers’ unpaid dues for work done that was related to the tournament.
Qatar’s government must ensure the delivery of justice in supply chains, where some companies at the top delay or deny due payments to subcontractors, who in turn make sure the burden falls on their employees. Also troubling are migrant workers’ reports of being encumbered by recruitment charges, which their employers have not reimbursed them for despite written promises to that effect; Qatari authorities must ensure that these work contracts are honoured, and make it easier for workers to file complaints in this regard.
Euro-Med Monitor expressed particular concern over the fact that migrant workers are finding it increasingly difficult to access the Qatari legal system due to long waiting times and backlogs, unaffordable costs, and inadequate enforcement of existing laws. “It should be intuitive for the government [to discern] that migrant workers who have fallen into poverty after being denied their wages will not be able to travel constantly to the Labour Ministry for follow-ups and hearings,” said Abdu, “or wait for months and months for their cases to be processed.”
The government must establish a hotline and digital platform for filing wage theft complaints and create clear and reasonable timeframes for case handling and compensation after a positive ruling. This would allow some migrant workers in Qatar to return to their home countries, and for the remote follow-up of their cases. Moreover, the ability of migrant workers to stand up for their rights and enjoy collective representation continues to be hindered by their inability to unionise, which would require the country’s authorities to reconsider its union-related regulations and laws.