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Mon 1 Feb 2016 04:10 PM

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UK union chief claims Qatar migrant workers 'trapped in living hell'

Unite leader Len McCluskey slams conditions seen during unofficial visit to labour camp north of Doha

UK union chief claims Qatar migrant workers 'trapped in living hell'

The leader of the UK's Unite trade union has claimed that many migrant workers in Qatar are "trapped in a living hell".

The comments of Len McCluskey come after a visit to a labour camp in Al Khor, north of the capital Doha, the UK's Mirror reported on Monday.

“Football is a beautiful game turned ugly by the heartbreaking ill-treatment of wave after wave of workers lured to Qatar on false promises, then trapped in a living hell,” the paper quoted McCluskey as saying.

McCluskey added that he will form a united front with MPs and campaigners after witnessing widespread abuse of migrants on his unofficial visit to the Gulf state.

Last month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Qatar has made progress in its efforts to improve the lives of migrant labourers, departing from previous UN criticism of the wealthy nation's treatment of workers.

Rights groups accuse Qatar of abusive labour laws and of forcing some workers to live in squalor and work under poor safety conditions.

Unions and labour protests are banned and authorities penalise dissent with jail terms or immediate deportation.

In the Mirror article, McCluskey said migrant workers he met complained through an interpreter about low pay and long hours.

All said their passports have been taken by their employers and claim they are paid less than promised when they took loans to pay an agent for work in Qatar.

“Wages agreed in advance aren’t paid and they’re packed into dirty, hot, crowded rooms, with the inadequate cooking and washing areas a severe health risk because they’re so dirty,” he was quoted as saying.

“Every football fan, trade unionist and anybody who cares about decency must protest loudly because we can’t stand by and look the other way, letting these workers be tortured like this.”

Qatar hosts 1.6 million foreign workers from countries such as India, Nepal and Bangladesh. They outnumber the local workforce by nearly 20 to one.

In 2014 the UN called on Qatar to abolish its "kafala" or sponsorship system, which forces foreign workers to seek their employer's consent to change jobs or leave the country.

The system is used in various forms across the Gulf Arab region, and rights groups say it contributes to widespread labour abuse. Qatar has not yet abolished the law, but efforts are underway.

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kadnani 3 years ago

Deplorable, but sadly nothing new!

John 3 years ago

It is obvious that this is political. I think what is more concerning about this issue is that workers are hired by race who have never seen a nail before with no experience in the construction business and are working in this sector. However the West thinks about the Kafala system, the system was formulated years ago to protect the employer and if you travel to the countries of the laborers they are most likely living in the same conditions if not better than their home countries. They choose to come to work in these countries and understand the consequences. I agree that the GCC should move away from a Kafala system and more towards a work permit system with visa quotas.

Bassam H. Barhoumi 3 years ago

Another episode in a calculated saga, all based on hearsay, unsubstantiated claims. Lets evaluate one detail of the claims of Mr. Mcluskey after A visit to a camp in Al Khor area of Qatar. When was the visit to claim the HOT conditions, surely not in these days of nice temperatures in the region and why it is published today.

All other claims are one sided unsubstantiated claims and do not properly evaluate the general state of affairs of the claimed 1.6 million through a day visit to a labour camp.

As to our regional journalists, I suggest evaluation and a scientific approach to what you write, and to enable proper two way story. Try to be fair.

I would suggest a study (by a university or an international non-political organization) of living / economic conditions at the countries of origin of those labourers AND each country utilizing them in the region and the under-developed world including statistical analysis of the results and a proper ranking of conditions.

Peter Lane 3 years ago

So because they live in bad conditions at home it is all right to treat them badly in Qatar??
Yes they chose to come to Qatar but based on the information given, which is not the same as actual conditions when they arrive.
I can't stand McCluskey and wouldn't believe him if he said water was wet, but regardless of who complains, workers in Qatar are treated no better than slaves.

James 3 years ago

Fair is as fair does.
If journalists were allowed to investigate freely, we would know much more.
But hiding behind one sided arguments doesn't hold water.

procan 3 years ago

well said peter.