Trade unions call on FIFA to deprive Qatar of World Cup
James M. Dorsey ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Qatar heavily depends on thousands immigrant workers for its booming construction sector, who live and work in ‘slavery conditions,’ according to ITUC. REUTERS PhotoInternational trade unions have called on world football body FIFA to strip Qatar of its right to host the 2022 World Cup because it has failed to end what they term 21st-century slavery and adopt international labor standards for the Gulf state’s more than 1 million foreign workers.
In a letter to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Sharan Burrow asserted that discussions with Qatari authorities since FIFA awarded Qatar the World Cup in a controversial December 2010 vote have produced no results.
Burrow said the ITUC had obtained a copy of a Charter for Migrant Workers that was drafted by Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee. She said the trade union was disappointed by the drafting process in which the committee failed to consult unions as well as its content. Sources said the draft charter was continuously being revised.
In a press release, the ITUC, which has refused to publish the draft charter, charged that it “shows contradictions with Qatari law and fails to give workers any real rights or protection from slavery conditions.” ITUC did not detail the legal contradictions.
Speaking in a telephone interview, Burrow said ITUC’s campaign to take the World Cup away from Qatar was an effort to “escalate pressure” on the Gulf state. She said the ITUC would consider ways of stepping up pressure on FIFA and Qatar if the football body failed to opt for a revote of the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar at its general assembly in Mauritius at the end of May.
“The government of Qatar has had two years to do two things: introduce freedom of association and [end] the kafala [sponsorship] system that effectively amounts to 21st-century slavery. The government has done nothing. How long are we supposed to wait and listen to the same things? Three years? Five years?” Burrow said. The sponsorship system common to various Gulf states effectively deprives workers of their free choice and gives employees full control over their employees.
Burrow said “hundreds of workers are dying and thousands more are injured in Qatar” as a result of its failure to adhere to international labor standards. “FIFA must act now – the longer the delay, the more workers will suffer and die.”
The union official said the demand to deprive Qatar of the World Cup was boosted by the corruption scandals overshadowing FIFA and world football that have yet to produce evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Gulf state, as well as debate on whether the tournament in Qatar should be moved to the winter months because of the region’s extreme summer heat.
The letter to FIFA constitutes a change of union tactics. While the ITUC has threatened to call on its 175 million members in 153 countries to boycott Qatar at a time that it is expected to recruit up to a million additional workers to construct billions of dollars in World Cup-related infrastructure, it had initially said it would first put Qatari promises to the litmus test.
These promises included a legally non-binding oral pledge in November 2012 by Qatari Labor Minister Nasser bin Abdulla al-Humidi to effectively allow the formation of independent trade unions.
“After a full and frank discussion, Qatar’s labor minister assured me that if workers want to establish a union, he will make sure that those who decide to join a union will not be punished. We will test him on that,” Burrow said at the time. ITUC officials said subsequently that they were preparing to establish a union in Qatar later this year.
City for workers
In a bid to fend off union demands, Qatar has moved to improve workers’ living and working conditions. It is seeking to ensure enforcement of safety and security standards, monitor on-time salary payments, reduce the number of workers living in one room from eight to four, and is building a city for workers that would include hitherto non-existent recreational facilities. It is also reviewing much-criticized recruitment procedures that reinforce the sponsorship system and leave workers heavily indebted.
In a break with Gulf reluctance to give foreign nationals a stake in their host nations, Qatar’s football league said this month that it plans to create a league for un- and low-skilled guest workers who account for the majority of the country’s population. The decision follows this month’s successful organization of a football tournament for foreign workers deprived of relaxation and entertainment facilities. The league would involve 32 clubs, double the number that competed in the tournament.
In a region in which lop-sided demography is the elephant in the room when it comes to the future of the smaller states, Qatar Stars League (QSL) executive director Adil Ahmed, a Pakistani national, said in what is an almost revolutionary statement that the idea of the foreign workers’ league was “to give low-income workers a sense of belonging in the country they serve.” His deputy, Hani Taleb Ballan, said the league would workers give “a fair opportunity to enjoy the life they had in their countries of origin in Asia and Africa.”
Smaller Gulf states whose nationals constitute a minority of the population have until now gone out of their way to ensure that foreigners have no sense of belonging out of fear that this would encourage them to stand up for their rights.
Critics of the ITUC’s demand to deprive Qatar of the World Cup charged that the union was being sensationalist and that there was still room for negotiation. “The ITUC makes the situation look a lot simpler than it is. The situation is not black and white. They are being sensationalist,” said an independent labor analyst.