independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Workers' plight lost in the storm of controversy in Qatar World Cup bid

Graham Clifford on why some workers in Qatar in the build up to World Cup 2022, were not impressed with the Taoiseach on his visit

A protest outside the headquarters of FIFA

THE Taoiseach may not have laid eyes on the tens of thousands of low-paid migrant workers being brought into Qatar to build football stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, but Irish ex-pats there say they're impossible to miss.

When asked about the issue on Tuesday during a trade visit to Doha Mr Kenny told reporters: "My assumption is that those who work internationally on such projects would have proper working conditions and proper facilities and I expect that to be the way."

But one Irish migrant to the oil-rich state reacted with dismay, saying: "I just laughed when I heard his response to be honest.

Everyone in Qatar knows about how migrant workers from the likes of Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan are treated -- no one really tries to hide it. I suppose he (Mr Kenny) just says what he's told by others but his answer was disappointing."

The 29-year-old business consultant told the Irish Independent that the lowest-paid workers are ill-treated and made to work in the most difficult of conditions.

"Some of those workers aren't allowed stop even when the temperature hits 50 degrees. By law they're not supposed to be outside working manually between 11am and 3pm at certain times of the year but no one cares. Last year a lot of Nepalese workers died from heart failure while out in the heat," he said.

As Dr Shane D'arcy, a lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUIG, explains, skilled Irish workers will invariably find themselves working alongside the non-skilled labourers on projects.

"It's next to impossible for Irish construction companies to fulfil contracts without using these workers in some way -- especially for the bigger World Cup-related works."

He, too, felt Mr Kenny did not deal with the question of how certain migrant workers were treated in Qatar.

"As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Ireland has duties and responsibilities to uphold. There is an understandable expectation that our representatives would promote human rights and not dismiss them when on a trade mission," said Dr D'arcy.

He added: "Human rights law has to follow companies and governments overseas and it's so disappointing that the continuous mantra of job creation, which of course is important, should over- shadow everything else. Where do we draw the line?"

Amnesty International's James Lynch, who wrote the recent report 'The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar's construction sector ahead of the World Cup', explained the terrible conditions many migrants were dealing with. "Our findings indicate an alarming level of exploitation in the construction sector. We found that 90pc had their passports held by their employers. Many receive a fraction of the pay they were promised before leaving their own countries and in some cases some workers are not paid at all.

"We're dealing with a case of 80 migrant workers now who haven't been paid for a year.

"They then don't have the money to return home and are left destitute and hungry -- it's an appalling situation in such a wealthy country," he said.

Those who refuse to work are reportedly threatened with imprisonment, and living conditions in the large labour camps are said to be totally unsatisfactory.

Mr Lynch believes that when government representatives of states such as Ireland visit Qatar, the issue of human rights should not be ignored.

"Even if they are on a trade mission it's imperative they point out to Irish companies there and those looking to establish bases there what's expected of them under Irish and international human rights law.

"Many large international companies in Qatar make a lot of noise about how well they treat their employees but they forget those migrant workers who are employed by companies they've sub-contracted work out to.

'It's ironic to be so careful with health and safety regulations on site but then not have any idea of the squalor these workers are returning to once they clock off."

It's estimated that, at any one time, there are in the region of 1,200 Irish workers based in Qatar.

One construction worker from Munster, who has been in the country for eight years, spoke of how local Qatari contractors treat the migrant workers particularly harshly.

"They'd abuse the workers alright. I don't know if it's a cultural thing but they do really look down on the poorest migrants.

"You often hear of moves to change things but there's so much building needed here over the next few years that anything other than getting on with work may not materialise."

In recent years Irish architects, engineers and tradesmen have made the small Arab state home, while the local GAA club in Doha has seen its membership grow so substantially over the years that it is now fielding both a men's and ladies' football sides.

There are some 1.35 million foreign nationals working in Qatar altogether and in the coming years even more manpower will be required if the country is to be ready for the controversial staging of the World Cup football finals.

Last September the International Trade Union Confederation claimed that by the time a ball was kicked in Qatar at least 4,000 migrant workers would have lost their lives.

"It's time to act to protect these workers and the Irish Government, like all others, has to defend human rights above all else," said James Lynch of Amnesty International.

 

FIFA TURMOIL OVER WORLD CUP FARCE: SEE SPORT

Irish Independent

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