Qatar's union ban linked to migrant deaths, labor leaders say

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 27, 2012 8:07 PM
Qatar's union ban linked to migrant deaths, labor leaders say

DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar's refusal to allow migrant workers to unionize is linked to a high rate of workplace deaths and violates global standards as the wealthy Gulf state prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, labor unions said.

The International Trade Union Confederation and the Building and Woodworkers' International have lodged a formal complaint against Qatar with the International Labour Organization, the two union groups said in a statement released on Friday. The ILO is a United Nations agency.

Migrant workers make up 94 per cent of the Qatari workforce, the statement said. Nearly 200 Nepalese workers die each year in the country, but the Qatari government does not publicly acknowledge the number of worker fatalities, a spokesperson from the ITUC said.

The Qatari government was not immediately available for comment.

"An event like the World Cup should be an opportunity for a wealthy nation like Qatar to modernize its social framework - and we will be putting all pressure we can to ensure that workers' rights are improved as a result of the event," ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said in the statement.

Qatar 2022 World Cup organizers have said they will ensure contractors adhere to international labor laws.

The tiny Gulf state has embarked on a massive domestic building program in the runup to the tournament, with plans to spend $11 billion on a new international airport, $5.5 billion on a deepwater seaport and $1 billion for a transport corridor in the capital, Doha. It will spend $20 billion on roads.

Poor working conditions are common across the oil-rich Gulf region, where impoverished men and women from South Asia have come for decades to toil on construction sites or oil projects or to work as domestic help. Qatar has no minimum wage.

All foreign workers in the region must work for a local sponsor, and it is legally difficult to leave a job before an employment contract ends without the sponsor's consent. Many sponsors keep their workers' passports.

(Reporting By Regan Doherty, Editing by Jason Webb)