Progress on labour reforms in Qatar stall following World Cup
Wales’ first football World Cup match in six decades will live long in the memories of fans, but the promises made to the workers who made the tournament possible are already being forgotten.
On the first anniversary of Wales’ opening clash with the USA at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, human rights organisations have warned that progress on labour reforms in Qatar has stalled since the end of the tournament.
Wage theft, illegal recruitment fees and restrictions on workers’ rights to change jobs are among abuses that continue unabated, according to new reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
“Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers lost their money, health and even their lives while FIFA and Qatar tried to deflect and deny responsibility,” said Steve Cockburn of Amnesty International.
“A year on from the tournament too little has been done to right all these wrongs.”
The abolition of the Kafala system, which prevented people from changing jobs or even leaving the country without the permission of their employer, was the headline reform made ahead of the World Cup.
Most workers can leave the country freely and many have changed jobs since the reform, according to Amnesty’s report.
‘Culture of impunity’
But it also included evidence of a “culture of impunity” among employers, many of whom continue to demand workers have a ‘no-objection certificate’ (NOC) certificate from their former employers as part of the recruitment process.
“Changing jobs is still a problem, workers can’t change without the NOC,” a representative of one embassy told Amnesty. “It is like a silent requirement.”
A minimum wage was introduced in 2021 but has not been increased since then despite prices increasing by 7 per cent.
It has also been undermined by employers continuing to withhold wages and benefits, a practice which Human Rights Watch says has been exacerbated by the economic slowdown since the World Cup ended.
Migrant workers are still being forced to take out loans to cover recruitment fees of between £800 and £2,000, despite it being technically illegal for employers to pass these costs on to workers.
“My ten months in Qatar was a waste because I paid more than what I had earned,” one migrant worker told Human Rights Watch.
There has also been no progress in the investigation of workers’ deaths and no improvement in the plight of domestic workers who receive “harsh treatment” in the homes of wealthy families, human rights advocates say.
Welsh Liberal Democrat MS Jane Dodds said she was “saddened but not surprised” by the findings.
“When the World cup was first awarded to the Gulf state, under questionable circumstances it must be said, workers were dying in the hot desert sun whilst women and those from the LGBTQ+ community were being persecuted and beaten,” she told Nation.Cymru.
“We were all told that this would change for the better once the world’s biggest event came to town, but we were sold a lie.
“Do they [the Welsh Government] regret dancing in tune to the sportswashing of the Qatar government aided by FIFA?
“Never again should we allow ourselves as a nation to fall short in times like this.”
First Minister Mark Drakeford was among a minority of European heads of government who chose to travel to Qatar, Nation.Cymru reported at the time.
Defending his decision, Drakeford told the Senedd: “Every single encounter that I had when I was in Qatar, and Vaughan Gething as well, whether that was with Ministers in the Qatari Government, whether it was the interviews we did for media, we always—absolutely always—made it clear where Wales stands on these key issues.
“So, you’ve got to use the platform, but you mustn’t do it in a preaching way. That’s my view.”
The Welsh Government’s strategy around the World Cup in Qatar increased the visibility and profile of Wales on the international stage, according to research published in the summer.
It found it was too early to assess the economic impact but, since the World Cup, Qatar Airways has announced the restart of direct services between Cardiff and Doha which were suspended as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Professor Laura McAllister, a UEFA vice-president who was one of Wales’ World Cup ambassadors, has also defended the Welsh Government’s strategy.
“This was the FIFA World Cup in Qatar and not the Qatar World Cup,” she told the World Congress on Sports Diplomacy earlier this year.
“It wasn’t about convincing the Qataris that their values were wrong, their politics were wrong or their economy was wrong, it was about talking to other countries that we could engage with on an informal basis and show what Wales was all about.”
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