“If you want to make enemies, try to change something”


Qatar’s cheerleading squad is practicing its chants in a vain attempt to drown out the injustices served up against the 1.4 million strong migrant workforce.

A series of articles from Indian news agency ANI has joined the inglorious ranks of FIFA’s Sepp Blatter and the notorious CEO of Qatar Airways Akbar Al-Baker in an attempt to deflect attention from the rights of workers in Qatar.

A few Indian labour brokers are making plenty of money from the notoriously deceptive practices of Gulf labour migration.

But no amount of money spent on media promotion can hide the fact that Qatar chooses to be a slave state. As the former US president Woodrow Wilson famously said, “if you want to make enemies, try to change something.”

Change is a long time coming for migrant workers in Qatar.

The use of the kafala system in Qatar and other Gulf states effectively allows one person to ’own’ many workers, force them to live in squalor with poor quality food, demand inhuman hours in intense heat and choose to pay or not pay them a fair wage with no right to freedom of association and no effective compliance.

Using this system is a deliberate choice of the Qatari government.

They could make another set of choices.

Why doesn’t Qatar choose to allow migrant workers established rights and freedoms?

Why doesn’t Qatar accept responsibility for setting a non-discriminatory minimum wage or tackle spiraling workplace injuries and deaths?

Why is that a nation so driven to development with so much wealth refuses to take responsibility for the fair treatment of those that willingly leave their homes and families to help them?

Migrant workers continue to die in Qatar in alarming numbers.

The most recent official figures from Nepal show one Nepalese worker dies every other day. Nepalese workers account for about a third of the total.

The death rate of Qatar’s Indian migrant workers continues to climb too – 277 deaths in 2014 or an increase of 13 per cent on the previous year, with one death every day in December.

The ITUC’s forecast that 4,000 workers will die before a ball is kicked in the 2022 World Cup could be tragically underestimated.


State-sponsored deaths

Reforms since 2010 that are promised, announced and re-announced do nothing to halt this appalling record of what can only amount to state-sponsored deaths.

The Qatar Foundation’s heralded standards for migrant workers do not equate with international labour standards and even then have only have reached 800 workers.

By the time of full implementation in a few years, they aim to reach a mere 5 per cent of the migrant workforce, promising drinkable water, edible food and dormitory accommodation better than the squalid labour camps where tens of thousands of workers spend their nights.

Many of the five per cent could expect to get safety boots, helmets and other protective equipment for the first time.

The latest re-announcement from the Qatar government meanwhile involves a re-branding of kafala, but no real change and no rights for workers.

Discriminatory wages will stay at poverty levels, with no freedom of association or reform of the notorious court system.

The infamous exit visa stays in place, with the government taking more control through an administration system that continues to fail workers at every turn.

Abusive employers can still stop a worker from leaving their job for five years.

Wages are supposed to be paid into bank accounts in future – as long as the employer allows the worker to open an account.

International standards for workers remain missing in action in Qatar.

The alternative choice for government of Qatar is simple.

Respect the contribution of migrant workers and accept the dignity of decent work – labour rights, safety standards, and fair contracts, wages and effective dispute mechanisms.

Then everyone wins.

But first Qatar would have to accept that migrant workers are human beings with human rights – equal in stature whatever their race – and abolish the kafala system that is modern day slavery.