The grim re­al­ity

As Qatar’s con­struc­tion boom gath­ers pace ahead of the 2022 World Cup, the In­dian govern­ment con­firms scale of death toll.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT - By OWEN GIBSON By ANU ANAND

More than 500 In­dian mi­grant work­ers have died in Qatar since Jan 2012, re­veal­ing for the first time the shock­ing scale of fa­tal­i­ties among those build­ing the in­fra­struc­ture for the 2022 World Cup.

of­fi­cial fig­ures con­firmed by the In­dian em­bassy in Doha re­veal that 237 In­di­ans work­ing in Qatar died in 2012 and 241 in 2013. A fur­ther 24 In­di­ans died in Jan 2014.

These come af­ter the Guardian in Bri­tain re­vealed last month that 185 Nepalese work­ers had died in Qatar in 2013, tak­ing the to­tal from that coun­try to at least 382 over two years.

Hu­man rights groups and politi­cians said the fig­ures meant Fifa could not “look the other way”, and should be leading de­mands for Qatar to im­prove con­di­tions for the es­ti­mated 1.2 mil­lion mi­grant work­ers fu­elling the con­struc­tion boom.

The fig­ures from the In­dian em­bassy also show that 233 In­dian mi­grants died in 2010 and 239 in 2011, tak­ing the to­tal over four years to 974. Since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in Dec 2010 there have been 717 recorded In­dian deaths.

The In­dian em­bassy did not pro­vide fur­ther de­tails on who those in­di­vid­u­als were, their cause of death or where they worked. But anal­y­sis of the lists of dead Nepalese work­ers showed that more than two-thirds died of sud­den heart fail­ure or workplace ac­ci­dents.

Qatar’s min­istry of labour and so­cial af­fairs told the Guardian: “With spe­cific re­gard to these new fig­ures, we were aware that lo­cal me­dia had pre­vi­ously re­ported some of these head­line num­bers, and we are clar­i­fy­ing them. Clearly any one death in Qatar or any­where else is one death too many – for the work­ers, for their fam­i­lies, but also for Qataris who wel­come guest work­ers to our coun­try to per­form valu­able jobs.

“We are work­ing to un­der­stand the causes of these deaths – as these sta­tis­tics could in­clude a range of cir­cum­stances in­clud­ing nat­u­ral causes, and road safety in­ci­dents, as well as a smaller num­ber of workplace in­ci­dents.”

Ni­cholas McGee­han, a Gulf re­searcher for Hu­man rights Watch, said: “These fig­ures for In­dian deaths are a hor­ren­dous con­fir­ma­tion that it isn’t just Nepalese work­ers who are dy­ing in Qatar.”

Jim Mur­phy, the shadow in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment sec­re­tary, said: “Prepa­ra­tions for the 2022 World Cup can­not go on like this – the trickle of wor­ry­ing re­ports from the con­struc­tion sites of Qatar has be­come a tor­rent.

“Some of the prac­tices we know are tak­ing place in Qatar amount to forced labour, and there are wide­spread con­cerns that the death toll could reach well into the thou­sands if noth­ing is done.”

A re­cent hear­ing at the euro­pean par­lia­ment heard from hu­man rights groups, Fifa and other in­ter­ested par­ties af­ter a res­o­lu­tion last year call­ing for ac­tion on the is­sue as con­struc­tion of 2022 World Cup venues be­gins in earnest.

De­spite the Qatar 2022 or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee im­ple­ment­ing a new char­ter re­lat­ing to con­struc­tion of its sta­di­ums, and the min­istry of labour high­light­ing an ex­panded in­spec­tion pro­gramme, hu­man rights groups and trade unions have re­peated their call for struc­tural change in the face of hun­dreds of deaths.

In Novem­ber Amnesty warned in a damn­ing re­port that work­ers were en­dur­ing 12hour days in swel­ter­ing con­di­tions and liv­ing in squalid, over­crowded ac­com­mo­da­tion. The In­ter­na­tional Trade Union Con­fed­er­a­tion (ITUC) says up to 4,000 work­ers may die be­fore a ball is kicked in 2022 with­out mean­ing­ful re­form of the kafala sys­tem, which ties work­ers to their em­ploy­ers, and strin­gent con­trol of the myr­iad con­struc­tion com­pa­nies and sub­con­trac­tors in­volved.

The ITUC has called the char­ter a sham be­cause it does not deal with struc­tural prob­lems cre­ated by the kafala sys­tem. Many work­ers ar­rive in Qatar al­ready heav­ily in debt, hav­ing paid huge sums to mid­dle men to se­cure con­tracts in the fast-grow­ing Gulf state. A se­nior ex­ec­u­tive at one of Qatar’s largest banks told a con­fer­ence in Bahrain last month that the Gulf state would spend £123bil on in­fra­struc­ture projects in the next four years alone.

There are an es­ti­mated 1.2 mil­lion mi­grant work­ers in Qatar. Those from In­dia make up 22% of the to­tal, with a sim­i­lar pro­por­tion from Pak­istan. Around 16% are from Nepal, 13% from Iran, 11% from the Philip­pines, 8% from egypt and 8% from Sri Lanka.

The Qatar World Cup or­gan­is­ers be­lieve that by hold­ing their own con­trac­tors to higher stan­dards they can cre­ate mo­men­tum for change, and that im­proved rights for work­ers could be one legacy ben­e­fit of host­ing the tour­na­ment.

The min­istry of for­eign af­fairs says it is step­ping up ef­forts to hold con­trac­tors to ex­ist­ing labour laws, sanc­tion­ing 2,000 com­pa­nies in 2013 and a fur­ther 500 in Jan 2014 alone.

The Qatari min­istry of labour and so­cial af­fairs added: “Where any li­a­bil­ity is found to rest with em­ploy­ers, the min­istry . . . and Qatari law au­thor­i­ties will pur­sue these cases through the rel­e­vant le­gal chan­nels. We have in­creased the num­ber of trained labour in­spec­tors by 25%, and con­tinue to hire new in­spec­tors, with over 11,500 ran­dom spotchecks of work­places car­ried out in the past three months. This, in or­der to en­force our ex­ist­ing labour laws, with the aim of the preven­tion of any fur­ther workplace in­ci­dents.”

Law firm DLA Piper has been en­gaged to pre­pare a re­port on all is­sues sur­round­ing Qatar’s use of mi­grant labour, which is ex­pected to be pub­lished next month.

Amnesty’s James Lynch, who wrote last year’s re­port, called on the Qatari and In­dian au­thor­i­ties to pro­vide more de­tail on the cir­cum­stances of the deaths.

“This is­sue is not re­stricted to one coun­try of ori­gin,” Lynch said. “It is crit­i­cal that the Qatari govern­ment works ur­gently with the gov­ern­ments of mi­grant work­ers’ coun­tries of ori­gin to in­ves­ti­gate the main causes of mi­grant work­ers’ deaths and de­vel­ops a trans­par­ent plan to ad­dress these, par­tic­u­larly where deaths re­late to in­dus­trial ac­ci­dents, work con­di­tions and ac­cess to health­care.” – Guardian News & Me­dia

Shan­ty­town life: a con­struc­tion worker rests dur­ing his lunch break in doha. as Qatar pre­pares to host the 2022 World Cup soc­cer tour­na­ment, and is pour­ing bil­lions of dol­lars into an in­fra­struc­ture pro­gramme that will re­quire vast num­bers of for­eign work­ers, its treat­ment of mi­grant labour is com­ing un­der the in­ter­na­tional spot­light.

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