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Qatar: New law barely scratches the surface of labour exploitation

‘FIFA, its sponsors and foreign governments seeking business ties with Qatar cannot and must not use this reform to claim that the problem of migrant labour abuse has been solved’ - James Lynch

Changes to Qatari labour laws entering into force tomorrow (13 December) barely scratch the surface and will continue to leave migrant workers - including those building stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup - at the mercy of exploitative bosses and at risk of forced labour, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today.

New name, old system? Qatar’s new employment law and abuse of migrant workers, details the failings of new labour legislation (Law No. 21 on the Entry, Exit and Residency of Foreign Nationals) which the Qatari government has said will overhaul key aspects of the country’s sponsorship system.

The briefing, which also comes at the halfway point between the 2022 World Cup being awarded and it taking place, warns that the meagre reforms will not significantly change the exploitative relationship between employers and workers, and that the risk of forced labour and other abuses remains high for migrant workers, including those building World Cup stadiums, transport infrastructure and other key facilities like hotels.

In March next year the UN International Labour Organisation will decide whether Qatar is doing enough to prevent forced labour.

James Lynch, Deputy Director for Global Issues at Amnesty International, said:

“This new law may get rid of the word ‘sponsorship’ but it leaves the same basic system intact. It is good that Qatar has accepted that its laws were fuelling abuse, but these inadequate changes will continue to leave workers at the mercy of exploitative bosses.

“Key problems that drive abuse remain. In practice, employers can still stop migrant workers from leaving the country. By making it easier for employers to confiscate workers’ passports, the new law could even make the situation worse for some workers. The tragedy is that many workers think that this new law will be the end of their ordeal.

“FIFA, its sponsors and foreign governments seeking business ties with Qatar cannot and must not use this reform to claim that the problem of migrant labour abuse has been solved. If the reform stops here, workers across the country – building and working in the stadiums, hotels and transport network that every player and fan in Qatar will use – will be at serious risk of human rights abuse.”

The new legislation replaces Qatar’s notorious 2009 sponsorship law, widely identified as a key driver of the abuse of migrant workers. However, three key provisions mean workers are still at risk of exploitation:

·         They still need their employer’s permission to change jobs, without which they face criminal charges for “absconding” if they change jobs during a contract period, which can last up to five years.

·         They still require exit permits to leave the country, which can still be blocked by their employer. A government committee will consider workers’ appeals against being blocked from leaving.

·         Employers keeping workers’ passports, which was previously illegal, is now legal under a new loophole which abusive employers can easily exploit.

The new law also does nothing to change the situation of the thousands of migrant domestic workers who are excluded from key labour protections in Qatari law.

Amnesty is calling on Qatar to conduct a systematic reform of its labour laws that unambiguously abolishes exit permits, completely bans passport confiscation, and frees workers from the requirement to get their employer’s permission to change jobs.

The responsibilities of FIFA and the football world

World Cup-related construction is set to peak in the next two years, with the building of at least eight stadiums, hotels, transport networks and other infrastructure.

On 30 March, an Amnesty report found that more than 230 workers interviewed while working on the Khalifa International stadium and the surrounding Aspire zone sports complex had been subjected to labour abuse, including in some cases forced labour.

In FIFA’s strategic vision launched by its president Gianni Infantino in October, football’s governing body acknowledged it must use its influence to address human rights risks “as determinedly as it does to pursue its commercial interests.”

James Lynch said:

“At the halfway point of preparations for the 2022 World Cup, the Qatari authorities have not done enough to address clearly documented human rights issues. FIFA simply cannot continue to remain shamefully ambivalent to the plight of workers in Qatar.

“Abuses will continue to taint the reputation of FIFA and their World Cup unless they push for structural changes to the relationship between employers and migrant workers.

“The big clubs who train and play in Qatar, helping to establish the country as a hub for elite world football, should not look away either. Giants of football like Barcelona, who are playing in Doha today, should make clear to their hosts their desire to play in a human rights-friendly environment. Players and clubs cannot live in a bubble.”

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