Let’s not forget Qatar on International Workers’ Memorial Day


How do Sepp Blatter and his fellow Fifa officials sleep at night? According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) up to 4,000 innocent workers involved in construction projects in Qatar could die before a single ball is kicked for the 2022 World Cup?

I’ve seen the labourers’ camp first hand in an industrial area far from Doha’s gleaming high rise city.

The conditions are indescribable and unfit for human habitation.

I’ve been haunted by what I’ve seen ever since.

Today is International Workers’ Memorial Day.

It is a time to remember those who have died needlessly at work and to fight for the living.

But it’s also time for Fifa to end to the shocking deaths and horrific exploitation in Qatar.

Trade unionists, politicians, journalists, charities and numerous international observers have expressed their shock and disgust at what they have seen there.

Tens of thousands of workers from countries including India and Nepal have travelled to Qatar to work in a state of virtual bonded labour to try to support themselves and their families.

I saw workers, who wake up at 04:00, still waiting at 22:00 for their turn to use a cooking hob.

Cleanliness is beyond human effort as the facilities are so inadequate and yet, remarkably, the workers do manage care for themselves and their environment, rising above the indignities hurled at them.

We spoke to some of these workers and as we sat with them in their terribly overcrowded ‘bedrooms’, many wept from sheer frustration.

Returning home to massive debts chalked up by payment to labour agents is a humiliating prospect – one that has led some migrant workers to take their own lives.

Agents actively recruit workers in poor countries with high unemployment. I wondered about the men I met who will return home alive or uninjured, who will repay their debt and who will survive the shame if they “fail”.

I looked workers in the eye and felt immense anger at the betrayal of their human rights. In their faces I saw features similar to people I know, and I asked myself: “What would we do if it was our brothers, sons or fathers in this situation?”


Blood-stained and ugly

The “beautiful game” has become blood-stained and ugly.

Fifa must be prepared to strip Qatar of the 2022 World Cup. There can be no World Cup in Qatar without workers’ rights.

International Workers’ Memorial Day is an important reminder of the link between the scandal of what is happening today in Qatar, and tragedies like the deaths of 1,138 workers at the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh last year, and even the deaths of construction workers in the UK.

Employers try to keep unions out to maximise profits and it happens globally.

Only five years ago a secret blacklist held by UK construction employers was discovered with over 3,000 names. The blacklist was used by a number of employers to exclude workers from construction sites just because they raised concerns about health and safety.

But the evidence shows that trade union workplaces are safer workplaces. So many workplace deaths and accidents could have been prevented by allowing strong trade unions to play a genuine role and to be involved in health and safety decisions.

The 2012 London Olympics had its problems but there was not a single fatality during the construction of the stadiums because unions, including my union Unite, were involved from the outset.

Surely as the richest country in the world, Qatar can afford to give its construction workers dignity, fair pay and a guarantee that it will do everything possible to ensure workers return home safely?

Last December, Blatter was quick to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela when he sadly passed away. The Fifa president said that: “Nelson Mandela will stay in our hearts forever. The memories of his remarkable fight against oppression, his incredible charisma and his positive values will live on in us and with us.”

Sadly, Blatter has been much slower off the mark to “fight against oppression” in Qatar. He and his officials at Fifa have the power to stop Qatar’s football pitches from becoming a graveyard, and they must use that power.