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Thu 31 Mar 2016 02:11 PM

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Qatar pledges to investigate Amnesty abuse claims

Government responds to claims of human rights and labour breaches by contractors on World Cup stadium

Qatar pledges to investigate Amnesty abuse claims
Construction work continues on Khalifa International Stadium ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar on December 30, 2015 in Doha, Qatar. (Getty Images)

The Government of Qatar has said it will investigate contractors accused of human rights abuses against labourers following a new report by Amnesty International.

Workers involved in the rebuilding of a 2022 World Cup stadium in Doha have suffered human rights abuses two years after organisers drafted new welfare standards in the wake of intense criticism, Amnesty said in a report on Wednesday.

For example, dozens of construction workers from Nepal and India were charged recruitment fees by agents in their home countries, housed in squalid accommodation and barred from leaving the country by employers in Qatar who confiscated their passports, the human rights group alleged.

It said it had interviewed 132 workers involved in the rebuilding of the Khalifa stadium, one of $200 billion worth of World Cup construction projects currently underway in Qatar.

Following publication of the report, the Government of Qatar issued a statement responding to the claims.

In it, it pledged to investigate the particular contractors named in the report.

The statement said: “The Government of Qatar considers the welfare of our guest workers a top priority and is committed to the ongoing, systematic reform of Qatar’s labour laws.

“Our goal is to create a legacy of improved conditions for workers in Qatar and to set the standard for both labour rights and human rights in the Gulf region. We acknowledge the progress that has been made by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy.

Construction work continues on Khalifa International Stadium ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar on December 30, 2015 in Doha, Qatar. (Getty Images)

“To that end, we are well aware that our efforts are a work-in-progress, and we welcome the efforts Amnesty and other NGOs are making to help us identify areas for further improvement.

“Though many of the points raised by Amnesty have already been addressed through recent legislative changes, we are concerned by a number of allegations contained within the report.

“The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs intends to investigate the contractors named in the report.”

In the past two years, Qatar has implemented widespread changes to its labour laws, including reforms to its controversial ‘kafala’ sponsorship system.

Under the changes, there will be a new system to appeal refused exit permits, and expats who finish fixed contracts will no longer need their sponsor’s approval to take up another job.

Previously, they had to wait two years to work in Qatar again if an employer refused to grant a ‘no objection’ certificate to change jobs.

However, the reforms are not expected to be fully implemented until the end of this year.

Meanwhile, in May 2014, the Government of Qatar announced an increase in fines to QR25,000 for anyone found guilty of withholding employee passports.

In November, a new Wage Protection System was introduced in November with the aim of ensuring low-income workers are paid in full and on time and not in the ‘cash-in-hand’ manner the government has admitted has been typical to date.

And, in October, Qatar drafted reforms to its entry, exist and residency requirements. Once enacted, the legislation will permit greater freedom of movement – including enabling workers to submit exit permit requests directly to the Ministry of Interior in the event of a dispute with their employer, the government has claimed.

It has also claimed to have conducted more than 1,800 inspections of recruitment agencies in Qatar to ensure they are not charging fees to workers.

Despite such reforms, this week’s Amnesty report points out numerous breaches of labour laws and human rights – including abuses by small sub-contractors brought in to work on the Khalifa stadium “who do not appear to have been vetted by the tournament’s organisers”, it said.

Amnesty also alleged that staff from one recruitment firm threatened to withhold pay and report workers to police to exact “forced labour” from migrants.

On Wednesday, Hassan Al Thawadi, Qatar’s 2022 committee chief, told reporters that Amnesty had highlighted “malpractices” faced by some of the 5,100 construction workers building stadiums.

“We’ve always recognised that we don't have a magic wand that could fix the matter from the very beginning,” Al Thawadi said, adding that the 2022 World Cup was a “catalyst for change – we’re resolving gaps day by day.”

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