Qatar to allow inspections of World Cup stadiums
The international trade union, Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) signed a one-year MoU with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy to conduct joint inspections of all World Cup-related construction sites and labour accommodation.
Qatar is allowing one of its staunchest trade union critics access to inspect the World Cup sites over the course of a year.
From January 2017, members of Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) will accompany Qatar tournament organisers during inspections of stadiums and labour camps ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
The international trade union for construction workers signed a one-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) on 15 November.
Since Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, BWI has called on Qatar’s government to improve living and working conditions for blue-collar expats, along with freedom of movement and access to fair grievance procedures.
During the next 12 months, labourers on the World Cup sites is expected to more than triple from 10,000 to 36,000 people.
Speaking to Doha News, Ambet Yuson, general secretary of BWI, described the agreement as “a major breakthrough” in ensuring the safety of employees on World Cup projects in Qatar.
“There are many issues, but we want to start with health and safety because it is about the lives of workers. Construction is a dangerous job – we want to make sure every worker is protected and is safe,” he said.
In a statement SC secretary general Hassan Al Thawadi said the agreement comes at a “crucial stage” in World Cup preparations and added: “We have always said we will work with anyone who can help us on this journey. This is testament to that promise.”
While it is illegal for non-Qataris to join Qatar trade unions, delegations from labour rights’ groups do occasionally conduct visits to camps and construction sites.
In a visit conducted by BWI in 2013, the delegation inspected numerous sites over three days, where they reported seeing overcrowding and “unbelievably bad” conditions, which included flooded bathrooms, run-down kitchens and workers either sharing beds and/orsleeping on the floor in their lodging.
While there were sites that provided satisfactory facilities, the BWI officials observed “disturbing evidence of wrong practices”, accompanied by an over-arching “climate of fear” among the migrant workforce which prevented many from expressing complaints of mistreatment, they reported.
Although officials did not reveal which locations were visited, the trip was under taken before construction commenced on the World Cup stadiums.
FIFA’s secretary general Fatma Samoura said during her first official visit to Doha last week, she wanted Qatar to have better relations with trade unions and workers’ rights groups, such as the BWI.
While the MoU applies to joint inspections of construction sites and camps directly related to the World Cup, it does however, exclude the vast majority of projects in Qatar.
Only sites that involve multinational companies based in countries where BWI currently has representation are being inspected, namely from Austria, Belgium, Italy, India and Cyprus.
The projects to be inspected include all five of the World Cup stadiums currently under construction – in Al Wakrah, Al Khor, Al Rayyan, Education City and Khalifa Stadium in Doha’s Al Waab.
The SC assured that the inspections, which also cover labour camps, will take place “regularly”.
The statement outlined that a joint working group is being established to review current work, organise future inspections and compile a public report subsequent to each meetings.
The first meeting was scheduled for 16 November.
The BWI/SC agreement has come about after nearly two years’ of discussions around improving the working and living conditions of Qatar’s immense migrant workforce.
One of the crucial challenges will be to make sure subcontractors as well as contractors adhere to human rights conditions.
Yuson said: “I believe that the big problem is down the chain. The people working for subcontractors are still the responsibility of the main contractor – they are responsible for the whole chain of workers on a project,”
Included in the agreement, BWI is tasked with giving health and safety training to the SC and contractors at work on the stadiums, in addition to assessing SC’s Workers’ Welfare forums which are the current means for employees to air and resolve complaints.
In place already is a ‘workers’ charter’ that summaries essential standards required from all its contractors and subcontractors.
This was updated earlier this year to also cover ethical recruitment, workers’ nutrition, workers’ accommodation and on-site health and safety.
However, Al Thawadi concedes that more can be done and said: “While we have made a number of improvements in the last two years, from health and safety to accommodation standards, we recognize there is still work to be done.
“That’s why we welcome this MoU and look forward to continuing the relationship we began building with the BWI over two years ago.”