The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has announced a new investigation into the conditions of workers in Qatar following a visit of ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow to Nepal to hear first hand accounts from workers who have just returned from the Gulf Kingdom.
Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said new figures made public during her visit recorded 162 deaths of Nepalese workers in Qatar in the first ten months of 2011. Most of the workers’ deaths are unexplained, and are simply recorded as deaths “during sleep” or from “heart attacks”.
Nepalese embassy statistics from January – October 2011 show
• 13 migrant workers committed suicide
• 22 work-related deaths were documented
• 92 deaths were unexplained
“One construction worker I spoke to was working outside in 40 degree heat. When he asked to resign, he was not allowed. Instead he was forced to work 18 months in life-threatening conditions, to make enough money for his ticket home, ” said Sharan Burrow.
“Many workers die from heat exhaustion, in 2010 this was covered up as heart attacks, now we’re told the workers are dying in their sleep.”
“These young men are angry about how they were treated. One found out that he was earning $100 a month less than a colleague doing the same job. When he asked for equal pay, his employer refused. He said he would not work, and wanted to return home, but was kept in Qatar until he had paid for his ticket,” said Burrow.
During meetings with President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, Burrow committed the ITUC’s support to protect the rights of workers from Nepal and other countries working under extreme and harsh conditions in Qatar.
1.2 million Nepalis are believed to be working in Gulf States including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.
Qatar is launching one of the largest infrastructure programmes in history, with more than US$ 100bn in construction investment. Tens of thousands more migrants from Nepal and elsewhere are expected to flood into the country in the coming years. Migrants are banned from forming trade unions, and anyone taking industrial action over issues like safety or unpaid wages is deported.
The ITUC will release the investigation on workers conditions in Qatar towards the end of the year. Negotiations are continuing with FIFA on protections for workers building Qatar World Cup facilities.
The ITUC has warned it will launch an international campaign ‘No Labour Rights – No World Cup’ unless workers’ rights are upheld in Qatar.
2 May 2012: The International Trade Union Confederation has called for an urgent meeting with Qatari Labour Minister after reports emerged the Qatari authorities plan to establish trade unions in the Gulf kingdom.
In a letter to the Qatari Labour Minister, the ITUC said workers are dying in Qatar as they build World Cup stadiums and infrastructure, and suffer large-scale exploitation every day.
“Workers must have the legal right to organise themselves in free, independent trade unions without punishment or interference from authorities,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary International Trade Union Confederation
The ITUC, who recognise free and fair trade unions as affiliates, have received no official announcement from the Qatari authorities about their plans.
“We are ready to sit down with the Qatari authorities to ensure the legal conditions are in place for workers to collectively bargain and freely form and join trade unions of their choice,” said Sharan Burrow.
"Gradual change in the Gulf is not good enough for workers and their families. Construction workers, the majority of whom are migrant workers, are risking their lives today as they work in poor and unsafe conditions with low wages. They need trade union rights today to protect them," said Ambet Yuson, General Secretary of the Building and Wood Workers International.
International unions are negotiating with FIFA about labour standards after the World Cup was awarded to Qatar where workers’ rights are not protected to international standards.