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Qatar: Government and FIFA still failing exploited World Cup workers - new report

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Limited reform have stalled and workers paint bleak picture of continued exploitation, with many unable to leave their jobs and at risk of arrest and deportation

Details of FIFA’s promised tournament ‘legacy fund’ have still not emerged

‘Employers still have workers in a headlock’ - foreign diplomat in Doha

‘Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers lost their money, health and even their lives while FIFA and Qatar tried to deflect and deny responsibility’ - Steve Cockburn

Qatar’s continuing failure to remedy abuses faced by thousands of migrant workers and to protect them from labour exploitation is seriously tainting the legacy of the FIFA men’s World Cup one year on, Amnesty International said today (16 November).

In a new report - A Legacy in Jeopardy - Amnesty shows that progress towards improving workers’ rights in the country has largely stalled since the tournament ended.

While there’s been some limited progress in a few areas, said Amnesty, this has been overshadowed by a lack of action to tackle a wide range of continuing abuses. Reforms belatedly introduced and weakly-enforced by the Qatari government, and FIFA’s introduction of a human rights policy in 2017, failed to prevent widespread abuses occurring in the lead-up to and during the tournament, and abuses are still continuing.

As previously documented by Amnesty, hundreds of migrant security guards and marshals deployed to tournament-related sites and employed on short-term contracts were subject to labour exploitation during the World Cup. This included workers being made to pay unlawful recruitment fees, being misled about their jobs, and having to work excessive hours without weekly days off. Almost a year later they are yet to receive any remedy.

Marcus, 33, from Ghana, who works to support his siblings and has paid more than £300 in recruitment costs, told Amnesty:

“I had to take out a loan to pay for the expenses to travel to work in Qatar during the World Cup. I am still paying it. What I earned was not enough.”

While the thousands of labour abuses endured by migrant workers since FIFA awarded Qatar the right to host the World Cup cannot be undone, they can and must be remedied. FIFA generated a record £6bn from the Qatar World Cup but details of a promised tournament legacy fund remain vague. In March, FIFA announced the launch of a review into actions it needed to take to ensure there was remedy in line with its human rights policies, though publication of this review is still awaited.

To meet their respective human rights obligations and responsibilities, Qatar and FIFA must act urgently to ensure victims’ right to remedy and compensation are not denied or delayed any further. Amnesty’s new report reiterates its ten-point plan for reform from the eve of the tournament which urged Qatar to improve and better enforce its labour laws to protect workers from further exploitation and ensure access to justice and reparation for all victims.

Qatar signed an agreement in 2017 with the International Labour Organisation resulting in significant changes to labour laws in the following years, including reforms of the kafala sponsorship system, a new minimum wage and health and safety legislation. However, at the onset of the World Cup the implementation and enforcement measures needed to prevent further widespread abuses occurring remained inadequate.

Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic Social Justice, said:

“Qatar’s continued failure to properly enforce or strengthen its pre-World Cup labour reforms puts any potential legacy for workers in serious peril.

“From illegal recruitment fees to unpaid wages, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers lost their money, health and even their lives while FIFA and Qatar tried to deflect and deny responsibility.

“Today, a year on from the tournament too little has been done to right all these wrongs, but the workers who made the 2022 World Cup possible must not be forgotten.

Qatar should not be under the illusion that just because the tournament is over its actions won’t face scrutiny and it must renew efforts to improve workers’ rights

“The government must urgently renew its commitment to protecting workers, while both FIFA and Qatar should agree to remediation plans for all those who suffered.

“As for FIFA, to prevent a repeat of the kind of abuses associated with the World Cup in Qatar, it must learn from its mistakes, be prepared to take its human rights responsibilities seriously, and directly remedy abuses that its failures caused or contributed to.

The abuses related to the 2022 World Cup should serve to remind sporting bodies that human rights must always be at the heart of decisions when awarding events.”

Trapped in abusive employment situations

Interviewees have told Amnesty that most migrant workers can now leave the country freely, and said there have been improvements in the enforcement of laws related to working in very high temperatures - but beyond this they painted a bleak picture of lost momentum and continued exploitation.

While workers no longer legally require a “no-objection certificate” from employers to be able to move jobs to escape abuse or seek better conditions, in practice many must still secure some form of permission. Workers told Amnesty that even Qatari government officials continue to suggest they should get such permission for job transfers, and permissions are often a stated requirement in job adverts. Qatar’s own data shows that while more than 150,000 people changed jobs in the first eight months of this year, a third of workers’ applications to transfer were also rejected in this period.

A diplomat from a workers’ origin country told researchers:

“Changing jobs is still a problem, workers can’t change without the no-objection certificate, it is impossible to change without it. It is like a silent requirement. New employers still require no-objection certificates mostly, and old companies don’t want to give it.”

Additionally, employers still effectively control workers’ presence in the country, jeopardising their legal status and preventing them from changing employer. For instance, in response to workers filing complaints or asking to change jobs, abusive employers still cancel workers’ residence permits or falsely report employees as having “absconded” from their jobs, which can lead to workers being arrested and deported. One representative of a foreign embassy in Doha told Amnesty that “employers still have workers in a headlock”.

Wage theft remains the most frequent form of exploitation faced by migrant workers in Qatar, including amongst drivers in the growing food delivery industry, but the system to detect and respond to delayed and unpaid salaries and benefits is still not fit for purpose. Wages also remain low, and there has been no increase to the minimum wage since its introduction in 2021 even though living costs have risen.

Despite the establishment of specialist labour committees in Qatar, of which there are now five, huge barriers remain for workers trying to access remedy through the justice system. It is still a lengthy and challenging process for migrant workers, who must effectively stay in the country to argue their cases. As a result, workers often have no option but to accept settlements of far less than they’re entitled to, and abusive employers are rarely held fully to account.

Migrant workers employed as domestic staff, most of whom are women, remain especially vulnerable to serious abuses, and the government has done little in the last year to better protect these workers or to bring perpetrators of abuse to justice.

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