On the defensive

How the 2022 World Cup might shame leaders of the oil-rich nation into improving working conditions

by Erica Alini

On the defensive

Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

“Don’t kill us, we are at work,” say street signs urging drivers in the small but congested Arab emirate of Qatar not to vent their frustration on the immigrant labourers toiling away at various roadwork sites. After all, these destitute workers will likely be key players in delivering the 12 air-conditioned stadiums and extensive railway system Qatar has promised for the 2022 World Cup.

More than 70 per cent of Qatar’s population, estimated at one million, is made up of immigrants; the large majority are construction and domestic workers, mostly from South Asia, whose working conditions resemble “forced labour,” according to Samer Muscati, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. The migrants find themselves working 12-hour days for some $2,200 a year—up to 50 per cent less than what they were initially told. But burdened by loans to cover recruiters’ fees, they have little choice but to stay and work.

Activists hope the World Cup will bring international scrutiny on the issue, and Qatar is “very, very sensitive to foreign criticism,” especially from the West, said Matteo Legrenzi, professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa. In fact, foreign pressure on labour practices are already working. Georgetown University, for example, which is based in Washington but runs a sister program in Doha, successfully lobbied for safety standards at the construction site of a new 400,000-sq.-foot facility for its Qatar campus. At Virginia Commonwealth University, also in Doha, faculty and students are designing houses for construction workers. And a new residential complex, Barwa City, is in the making, and projected to house 25,000 foreign workers.

Still, Qatari immigration rules require foreign workers to have a guarantor, usually a local employer, who can confiscate their passports and deny them from switching jobs or leaving the country. Critics say that is the main enabler of workers’ abuse. Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have all taken steps to abolish the practice. Now Qatar, if only to avoid bad press, may decide it is in its best interest to follow suit.




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On the defensive

  1. The AFC Asian Cup is being hosted this year by Qatar. On July 14th, I took in a great game where Australia and South Korea played an intense match to a 1-1 tie. It was a joy to experience. It's just too bad that all who wanted to attend were not allowed in. My friend and I took our two kids to see their first football game. We had no problem getting tickets. Then, five young Nepalese labourers attempted to get tickets. They were told that only “family and ladies” tickets were left. They asked me what to do. I didn't have an answer. They looked confused. I figured that the stadium must be pretty packed if they were just down to one section reserved for families. When we entered the stadium, I saw the reality. It wasn't packed. Then, it was announced that attendance was 15,000 people in a stadium with capacity for 25,000. I realized that once again, Qatari discrimination was taking place at the ticket booths. My friend and I were in the “family” section, where there were several groups of Arab and Western men. Our supposed “family section” was not a family section at all. It was a general seating area. So, why on earth would five workers be denied entry into a stadium with 10,000 empty seats? Because that is the way things work in Qatar. That is the way it is in malls, in parks and anywhere else that labourers are not wanted. These young men are the very ones who will be building the stadiums, the roads, the infrastructure needed to put on the World Cup when Qatar hosts it in 2022. But, will these workers be allowed into the stadiums? They work long hours in brutal conditions, live in squalid conditions and tend to earn very low wages. Often, their passports are taken away, and they are subject to a system that essentially makes them slaves to their employers. And when they try to go to malls, tourist areas, and, it would appear, Asian Cup football matches, they are denied entry. The very people who are building Qatar are outcasts and discriminated against. The Asian Federation Cup is proving to be a games where only those deemed fit to see them are being let in, despite the fact organizers would like to have full stadiums. It makes no sense. What will happen when the World Cup arrives in 2022?

  2. The AFC Asian Cup is being hosted this year by Qatar. On July 14th, I took in a great game where Australia and South Korea played an intense match to a 1-1 tie. It was a joy to experience. It's just too bad that all who wanted to attend were not allowed in. My friend and I took our two kids to see their first football game. We had no problem getting tickets. Then, five young Nepalese labourers attempted to get tickets. They were told that only “family and ladies” tickets were left. They asked me what to do. I didn't have an answer. They looked confused. I figured that the stadium must be pretty packed if they were just down to one section reserved for families. When we entered the stadium, I saw the reality. It wasn't packed. Then, it was announced that attendance was 15,000 people in a stadium with capacity for 25,000. I realized that once again, Qatari discrimination was taking place at the ticket booths. My friend and I were in the “family” section, where there were several groups of Arab and Western men. Our supposed “family section” was not a family section at all. It was a general seating area. So, why on earth would five workers be denied entry into a stadium with 10,000 empty seats? Because that is the way things work in Qatar. That is the way it is in malls, in parks and anywhere else that labourers are not wanted. These young men are the very ones who will be building the stadiums, the roads, the infrastructure needed to put on the World Cup when Qatar hosts it in 2022. But, will these workers be allowed into the stadiums? They work long hours in brutal conditions, live in squalid conditions and tend to earn very low wages. Often, their passports are taken away, and they are subject to a system that essentially makes them slaves to their employers. And when they try to go to malls, tourist areas, and, it would appear, Asian Cup football matches, they are denied entry. The very people who are building Qatar are outcasts and discriminated against. The Asian Federation Cup is proving to be a games where only those deemed fit to see them are being let in, despite the fact organizers would like to have full stadiums. It makes no sense. What will happen when the World Cup arrives in 2022?

  3. The article states:

    Still, Qatari immigration rules require foreign workers to have a guarantor, usually a local employer, who can confiscate their passports and deny them from switching jobs or leaving the country. Critics say that is the main enabler of workers' abuse. Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have all taken steps to abolish the practice.

    Canada's own system requires that immigrant labourers can ONLY be employed by their sponsor. The abuse is overwhelming. Should not we consider abolishing a practice that the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait have all deemed inappropriate?

  4. The article states:

    Still, Qatari immigration rules require foreign workers to have a guarantor, usually a local employer, who can confiscate their passports and deny them from switching jobs or leaving the country. Critics say that is the main enabler of workers' abuse. Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have all taken steps to abolish the practice.

    Canada's own system requires that immigrant labourers can ONLY be employed by their sponsor. The abuse is overwhelming. Should not we consider abolishing a practice that the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait have all deemed inappropriate?

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