From the TUC

Qatar2022 workers’ charter a sham without union rights

13 Feb 2014, By

Later today, global union leader Sharan Burrow will address the European Parliament’s human rights sub-committee alongside FIFA representatives, Amnesty International and footballers held as bonded labour in Qatar, the venue for the 2022 World Cup. She will argue that the Qatar World Cup organisers’ workers’ charter, updated yesterday because FIFA were pressurised into demanding some improvements, is a sham, and that workers in Qatar will not be truly free until they can join independent trade unions to fight for better terms and conditions.

Both the ITUC and Amnesty International have criticised the revised charter, which, for a start, only covers workers building the stadiums and training grounds, but leaves untouched the terrible conditions facing the majority of the 500,000 workers being brought to Qatar to build the infrastructure that goes with the World Cup, from homes to universities to roads – which UK construction companies are keen to win contracts for. The ITUC are particularly concerned that the charter says nothing about freedom of association, meaning that even those covered by the Charter will have to depend on the good nature of their employers. Global building workers’ confederation BWI is calling for more independent inspections, and an end to the ‘kafala’ system of bonded labour.

Shadow International Development Minister Jim Murphy has also expressed concern, calling the conditions of workers in Qatar forced labour. He called on DFID to expand its ‘Work in Freedom’ programme with the ILO (which covers trafficked women and girls in the region) to cover construction workers too. He said:

“Fifa must receive a full report from Qatar, cataloguing the full scale of the problem – and a serious plan to make things right. Nothing less will do. The shortcomings in the current system leave too many vulnerable people exposed.”

BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson slammed the new charter, saying:

“The guidance is not legally binding, does not guarantee workers’ rights to change employer, their right to leave the country or their right to join a trade union to bargain collectively for decent pay and conditions, and it applies only to a tiny proportion of migrant construction workers in Qatar. The Qatari government must apply labour standards in law to protect the whole migrant worker population, with a robust system of inspection, enforcement and sanctions. Above all, Qatar must abolish the notorious kafala system of sponsorship – based employment and the exit visa system that gives employers unchecked power to stop workers leaving the country. The kafala system facilitates forced or bonded labour and leads to the very bad living and working conditions and high rates of fatal and serious accident that we see in Qatar today.”

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:

“Unlawful practices will only continue with these provisions, which reinforce a system of forced labour with kafala. Qatar’s announcement is reaction to public pressure, but it won’t take the pressure off workers.”

And Amnesty International’s James Lynch said:

“Ultimately, these standards alone will not be enough – we need to see real reform including to the sponsorship system, led by the government, for all of Qatar’s workers.”