Qatar World Cup hit by more controversy as report warns of migrant deaths

Updated: September 28, 2013
Qatar World Cup construction workers

Qatar World Cup construction workers

Just when it looked like things couldn’t any worse for Fifa and the hosts of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar, a damning report has been published that claims a staggering 4,000 migrant workers could be killed getting the Gulf state ready to host the four-week tournament.

The stark warning comes from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) who have been scrutinising construction site deaths in the emirate for the past two years, and heaps more negative press on world football’s governing body.

It is suggested that up to one million extra construction workers will stream into Qatar over the next nine years, most attracted by the prospect of steady work as the country gears up to get its stadiums, hotels and infrastructure ready for the biggest event in sport.

However, of those migrant workers who move to Qatar from countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and India, the ITUC estimate around 4,000 will lose their lives in the process, basing its figures on current mortality rates among Qatar’s 1.2 million-strong migrant workforce, the  majority of who work on construction sites.

With autopsies often inconclusive, the ITUC admits that the cause of death remains unclear for many of the dead. However, it believes dangerous working conditions and hazardous environments are to blame, especially when added to the cramped and squalid living quarters most workers are forced to inhabit.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC , has said Qatar are likely to see a workforce increase of more than 50%, and warns that if there is no reform, the country could also expect a similar percentage increase in fatalities among those migrant workers.

“More than 4000 workers risk losing their life over the next seven years as construction for World Cup facilities gets under way if no action is taken to give migrant workers’ rights. The annual death toll among those working on building sites could rise to 600 a year – almost a dozen a week – unless the Doha government makes urgent reforms.”

The investigation has revealed that many migrants are forced to work in daytime temperatures that soar above 50C, which is often exasperated by a chronic shortage of fresh drinking water. Sickness is also said to be endemic, malnutrition rife and pay poor. It is claimed that nothing is being done to address the problem by the Qatari authorities, with an increase in the work force set to bring an increase in the number of deaths.

Qatar itself does not collate or publish statistics on the number of deaths among its migrate workers, however, the countries of those workers that die in the Gulf state do and some of the figures are shocking. During a nine month period, 119 Nepalese workers lost their lives, while over the past three years, the number of deaths among Qatar’s sizeable migrant workers from India numbered 233, 239 and 237. In the first five months of 2013 alone, 83 Indian workers lost their lives.

Shockingly, one construction worker is currently losing their life every day in Qatar, a fatality rate that is eight times higher than in the United Kingdom and other countries in the West. This despite the fact that the oil and gas rich country is the world’s richest by income per capita. In fact, Qatar are estimated to be spending around £62 billion on building transport infrastructure, hotels, stadiums and other facilities ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Asked to comment on the ITUC findings, the Qatari Labor Ministry said it had strict rules and guidelines that govern working conditions and the prompt payment of salaries to its workers.

“The ministry enforces this law through periodic inspections to ensure that workers have in fact received their wages in time,” the ministry said in an official statement. “If a company does not comply with the law, the ministry applies penalties and refers the case to the judicial authorities.”

A spokesman for the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, the body tasked with organising the World Cup, also commented on the allegations by saying: “There is no excuse for any worker in Qatar, or anywhere else, to be treated in this manner.The health, safety, wellbeing and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 Fifa World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar.”

Whatever happens now, the ITUC report is an appalling indictment  on Qatar as a country and Fifa as football’s governing body. The decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar has been dogged by controversy from the start, with suggestions of financial skullduggery and political manipulation coming from those countries that lost out to Qatar in the bidding process to host the tournament.

With Fifa already set on a collision course with a number of the world’s biggest leagues over plans to switch the competition to the European winter, the ITUC report throws more scorn on the decision to award Qatar the privilege of hosting the biggest sporting event on earth.

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