Union body calls for boycott of UAE Olympics

ITUC to lobby against any successful bid by UAE if worker rights issues not resolved
Indian labourers in Dubai.
By Claire Valdini
Sun 09 Dec 2012 11:13 AM

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) will lobby to boycott a UAE Olympic Games if the Gulf state does not improve working conditions for migrant workers, its general secretary told Arabian Business.

The ITUC, which has already called for a boycott of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, said it would be “appalled” if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the UAE rights to host an Olympic Games unless it adopts international labour standards for its migrant workers.

“We would be appalled if the [IOC] followed the example of FIFA and awarded a major sporting event before the government has genuinely changed its laws and its practice in regard to treatment of migrant workers,” said Sharan Burrow.

“No question [we would call for a boycott] unless there is a big shift in the next few years,” she added.

A UAE Olympic official said last week that Dubai will bid for the 2024 summer Olympics. The emirate, famous for its luxury hotels, has spent billions of dollars on sports facilities that host a number of international events including the Dubai Desert Classic and the Dubai World Cup.

Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, plans to invest about US$88bn over the next decade to host the 2022 World Cup.  Doha has unveiled an unprecedented spending plan to build the stadiums, hotels, bridges and railways needed for the 2022 games, requiring a flood of foreign labourers.

The wealthy Gulf state has been repeatedly criticised over the working conditions of labourers. A report last year by Qatar-based rights group NHRC found 70 percent of workers were only paid QAR1,100 (US$302) a month, while 30 percent of labourers received just QAR800 (US$219) a month.

Accommodation for about 43 percent of them was on the basis of six beds in a room and 31 percent said they have to share one toilet, the report said.

The ITUC, which last week held talks with a number of government officials in Doha, said it has been reassured by the country’s acting labour minister Nasser bin Abdulla Alhumidi that migrant workers who join a labour union would not be punished.

The group, which has 175 members in 153 countries, said it will start to build a presence in the Gulf state to help boost worker’s rights in Doha. “The minister has made the commitment and I can only hope it’s genuine and we’ll test it in the next couple of months,” Burrow said.

“We’ll build a presence and we hope that the labour minister and indeed the government will see that as a constructive step forward,” she added.

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