My latest piece I wrote for Freedom magazine, published in the October issue. On migrant workers' conditions in Qatar, where the World Cup of 2022 is supposed to be held. Basically the original version, but with a few small corrections.
One of the Arab countries apparently almost untouched by the Arab Spring is Qatar. The tide of protest and revolt more or less passed this Emirate by. The main news channel spreading attention to these events, Aljazeera, is Qatari-baed and regime-owned, which does not help to raise attention to what happens there. But even without willful media neglect, not much news would come out of there – because nothing much spectacular is happening there.
This is changing, and the reason is sports. The country will host the 2012 football World Cup, ten years from now. Ten years of frantic commercial building, investing in sportst accomodation and facillities. Who will do all this building? Not the Emir and his family. Not the Qatari citizens: they are a relatively affluent minority in the country, with limited civil rights, and a welfare system funded by Qatar's abundant oil riches. The rest are migrant workers, 94 percent of the labour force of Qatar. These migrants – plus a million more to be recruited - are going to build the stadiums, the sports facilities, the accomodation for the football extravaganza.
These migrant workers, mainly from SouthAsia, live and work under terrible circumstances of exploitation and neglect. Under a system of sponsorship, the power to chane jobs belongs to the companies these labourers work for. These sponsors decide whether the worker can leave the country, by witholding passports of migrants. Before a migrant even enters, he or she often has paid high recriutment fees, from several hundreds up to a few thousand dollars. They have to pay them back from their low wages, which means debt.
Sponsorship, and therefore company control, combined with recruitment-induced debt, means that migrants are forced into working and living conditions amounting to forced labour. Abuse, beatings, sexual assault is the natural product of such a system of almost absolute employers' control, which also sees the non-payment of wages and horrendous housing conditions in prison-like barracks. A modern-day commercial sport event is being prepared by modern-day slavery. Reading a Human Rights Watch report, or seeing video reports by Equal Times, an NGO, makes clear how it all works, and how it destroys lives by exploitation and systematic maltreatment. They make painful reading and watching.
The regime pretends to abide to international labour law, there even are 'labour unions'. But the right of strike and anything like serious workers'organizational rights are lacking. Resistance is extremely risky. “We don't complain, because if we complain for anything, the company will kick us out”, as a migrant worker from Nepal explains.
HRW and Equal Times are pushing the issue of migrant workers'maltreatment into the limelight, lobbying with the orgazational committee and FIFA, international trade union movement ITUC and the ILO. Government and FIFA promises have been made, but progress along that line can not be more that limited. There is too much money at stake to be hindered by the demand for necessary but costly improvements. Things will change – after the spirit of revolt engulfing the region finally reaches the building sites and workers' barracks of that exploiters' paradise called Qatar.
By Peter Storm
Peter Storm blogs, among other things, at Libcom.org under the name Rooieravotr. http://libcom.org/blog/rooieravotr