UK Government must ‘pull its weight’ to protect Qatar workers – TUC

Qatari employers are “out of control”, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has warned as it urged the UK Government to “pull its weight” and put pressure on the Gulf state over alleged workers’ rights abuses.

The trade union organisation said evidence from more than 20 workers and wider research reveals exploitation remains in Qatar as the World Cup kicks off.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the Qatari government is “turning a blind eye” to exploitation ahead of the global footballing competition, which starts on Sunday.

The build-up to the World Cup has been dominated by criticism of Qatar over the treatment of often migrant workers and concerns about LGBT rights.

The TUC’s report comes as Fifa president Gianni Infantino hit out at criticism of Qatar.

“We have told many, many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world,” he said.

“I think for what we Europeans have been doing the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”

But the TUC said improvements on workers’ rights and protections for migrant workers in Qatar do not go far enough, even if global campaigning in recent years means the situation for workers is “stronger than it was eight years ago”.

It said poverty-level pay is “rife” despite the introduction of a minimum wage, while the late or non-payment of wages is “rampant”.

Overtime pay, the union body said, is also “often flouted” by employers, while recruitment fees continue to burden workers with debt.

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.”

Another 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.”

Workers remain trapped in jobs despite the abolition of the “kafala” system of sponsored employment, the TUC said, with limited access to justice for those subject to exploitation.

Ms O’Grady said: “Employers in Qatar are out of control. They are flagrantly breaking the law and exploiting workers – and the Qatari government is turning a blind eye.

“Relentless union campaigning recently secured some much-needed protections for workers, but Qatar’s feeble enforcement system means many of these rights are illusory.

She said that “too many” workers are still vulnerable to “bad bosses”.

Cost of living crisis
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC (PA)

“The World Cup saw billions poured into Qatar but that money has lined the pockets of greedy bosses – not the workers who built the infrastructure,” she said.

Among the changes wanted by the TUC is an increase in the minimum wage there, as well as increased inspection powers to root out malpractice, and the creation of a migrant workers’ centre.

Ms O’Grady called on the UK Government to do more, urging it to “pull its weight on the global stage to put pressure on Qatar – starting with trade talks with the Gulf States”.

“There is no good reason for a trade deal with the Gulf States when human rights, women’s and LGBT rights and labour rights abuses are so widespread.

“Ministers should do the right thing and walk away from negotiations until fundamental rights are respected.”