Qatar officials on Thursday promised pay guarantees and better conditions for migrant workers building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup as they hosted a Labour Day conference to address growing international concern.
Leading critic Amnesty International, which attended the conference, welcomed Qatar’s openness in addressing the issue but called for it go much further and reform the whole system of restrictions it imposes on expatriates who make up 93 per cent of the workforce.
The conservative Gulf states have traditionally tolerated no May Day commemorations, but the Qatari Football Association said that Thursday’s conference had been timed to coincide with “Labour Day”.
Labour and Social Affairs Minister Abdullah al-Khulaifi told the conference that Qatar was taking steps to enforce prompt payment for all workers, as well as building better accommodation and boosting the number of safety inspectors at construction sites.
“Our (Islamic) religion has ordered us to treat workers in a humane way, and not to task them with unbearable jobs… most importantly, to pay them,” Khulaifi said.
The government approved a recommendation to make the electronic transfer of wages mandatory.
The government also plans to build two new “labour cities” in Doha’s industrial zone with a capacity to house 100,000 workers.
Five other compounds aree being built elsewhere in the emirate to accommodate 120,000 workers.
Amnesty’s head of global issues, Audrey Gaughran, urged Qatar to go further and reform the sponsorship system, under which a foreign worker cannot return home without an exit permit from his Qatari sponsor, among other restrictions.
“Exit permit is a flagrant breach of human rights,” she told the forum, insisting that it should not be left in the hands of a private employer.
The 2022 World Cup has been plagued by controversy ever since it was awarded to the tiny Gulf state.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has called for the tournament to be played during the northern hemisphere’s winter rather than in the searing heat of a Gulf summer.
But he has met fierce resistance from the big European leagues.