The 2022 FIFA World Cup has come at a huge human cost to migrant workers in Qatar.
Since winning the FIFA bid for the competition in 2010, Qatar has relied on migrant workers to execute its ambitious infrastructure-building projects, which include the construction of seven new stadiums, the renovation of an eighth, and the building of new public transport systems, skyscrapers, hotels and housing.
Lusail, where the World Cup final will take place on 18 December, is a purpose-built ‘smart city’ designed especially for the tournament, which was only completed in 2021.
None of this would have been possible without the two million migrant workers who make up 95% of Qatar’s labour force. The majority of these people are employed in construction or domestic labour, and many have travelled from South Asia, South East Asia and Africa to work there.
Many have experienced ruthless exploitation where non-payment and late payment is commonplace, and many have lost their lives due to dangerous working condition – the Guardian has reported as many as 6,500. And LGBT+ migrant workers endure added discrimination and risks at the hands of Qatar’s security services.
For years, UNISON has supported the PlayFair Qatar campaign and worked in partnership with the TUC and the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) global union federation to successfully demand changes to Qatar’s labour laws and their implementation.
With pressure from the international trade union movement, Qatar has made key reforms to its labour laws, including reforming the “kafala” visa sponsorship system, where employers confiscate workers’ passports. However, many employers still continue to exploit and abuse workers with impunity.
In a recent TUC report on labour exploitation in Qatar, one worker said: “I worked in Qatar for almost four years. In the last seven months, the company didn’t pay me anything. Just 100 rials (£25) a week for food. I knew it was illegal but there was nothing I can do.”
As businesses involved in the World Cup end their contracts, thousands of workers now find themselves stranded far from family in a foreign country, stuck with debt to pay back to exploitative employers who charged them illegal recruitment fees, and unable to buy a plane ticket home.
One worker told the TUC: “I have no visa, no ID card, no passport. I have nothing. Even if you arrest me, I have nothing. I cannot even go home, because I have overstayed my visa and need to pay a penalty fee before I can leave.”
Migrant workers fear that when the spotlight on Qatar fades, the global scrutiny over their working conditions will disappear. As migrant workers have no right to form or join trade unions in Qatar, UNISON, alongside the BWI, is demanding that a migrant workers centre is created in Qatar as the key legacy of the event. UNISON is also supporting calls for financial reparations to families who have lost loved ones.
UNISON encourages activists to join a global union social media campaign to stand with migrant workers in Qatar. You can download a Twibbon to display on your Twitter profile here. Please follow UNISON’s social channels to share your support.
Branches are encouraged to donate to support migrant workers’ legal and welfare assistance, which includes those in Qatar, though the TUC’s charity TUC Aid. Please use Qatar/UNISON as your reference.
Bank Unity Trust Bank
Account name TUC Aid
Sort Code 60-83-01
Account number 50679164
UNISON assistant general secretary Liz Snape said: “Whatever your opinion about the Qatar World Cup, what it shows is that campaigning works. When UNISON began working on Qatar in 2015, we would never have believed it if someone had told us collective efforts would result in a revision of the labour law, and migrant worker leaders having a voice.
“It’s not enough, but it is significant. The most important thing now is what happens after the games end. The international trade union movement is calling for a migrant workers advice centre. After the players and the media come home, UNISON will remain standing up for Qatar’s migrant workers.”
The article UNISON stands with migrant workers in Qatar – beyond the World Cup first appeared on the UNISON National site.