From the TUC

#BAD13: Workers in Qatar need human rights on the ground and in the air

16 Oct 2013, By Guest

Sepp Blatter

blog-action-day-2013The ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) has stepped up its campaign to secure “immediate and binding guarantees” on labour rights from the authorities in Qatar who were controversially awarded the FIFA World Cup Finals in 2022.

Without these, the ETUC says, using Qatar for the finals should be reconsidered. FIFA made some noises about the employment and human rights of workers building the venues following continuing pressure from unions worldwide. However FIFA’s autocratic and increasingly out of touch boss Sepp Blatter shrugged off calls for  reconsideration with the statement: “Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Voilà.”

The Guardian published a report last month on the appalling conditions facing the migrant workers who live – and die – in Qatar. Despite much media attention lead by the International Trade Union Confederation the sporting media’s main concern was the discussion on whether to move the finals to winter rather than have highly priced footballers wilting in 50 degree heat and the effect on domestic football fixtures this would have – rather than the appalling human and employment rights record in the country. Not to mention the fact that Qatar is hardly an appealing place for your average football fan to visit!

Eventually, the European Football Confederation president Michel Platini woke up to the protests saying that the switch to winter for the finals in 2022 should be put aside – given the gravity of the human rights situation in Qatar. We shall see.

FIFA’s other response was to propose a “courtesy visit” to the Emir of Qatar which was met with derision by the ITUC as being “totally inadequate” and “failing to put in place any plan to stop more workers dying”. The ITUC estimates that, at the current rate, 4,000 workers will have lost their lives by 2022.

The ETUC has reminded FIFA that its Statutes expressly commit all involved football to promote friendly relations in society for humanitarian objectives and to fight discrimination of any kind. The ETUC called on Qatar to meet those ideals and to respect international labour standards, notably the ban on forced labour and the right of all workers to have proper trade union representation.

Meanwhile the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which represents 4.5m transport employees globally, has recently exposed the treatment of Qatar Airways cabin crew.

A crew member complained to the ITF who said that her employment contract contained “flagrant human rights abuses”. Employees are required to “obtain prior permission” from Qatar Airways if they wish to get married and a woman employee can be fired if she becomes pregnant (which she is contractually obliged to disclose “from the date of her knowledge of its occurrence”).

Cabin crew also allege harsh treatment  with rigid curfews and restrictions. Akbar Al Baker, the airline’s CEO, when asked about the oppressive workplace environment after 35 pilots resigned en masse said loftily:

“I don’t need the services of spies. We are not running an intelligence agency. We are an airline company. The reason why I know everything happening in the company is that I’m deeply involved in the smooth running of the company. I’m simply everywhere, talking to everyone, listening to them.”

Interestingly Qatar Airways has refused to comment on the authenticity of the contract obtained by the ITF.

GUEST POST: Tony Burke is Assistant General Secretary of the trade union Unite.