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PLAYFAIR QATAR lambasted the Qatari authorities yesterday for not “giving Qatar’s construction workers the right to refuse to carry out dangerous work,” following a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
There are an estimated two million foreign workers, 95 per cent of the workforce, in the brutal Gulf state, with 800,000 working in construction.
Since controversially winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup in December 2010, the country has embarked on a massive infrastructure upgrade, including eight new or improved stadiums.
Work on the latter is overseen by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy and — under global pressure — it has allegedly taken steps to protect its 12,000 workers.
Playfair Qatar praised the report from US-based HRW for highlighting the ongoing disgraceful conduct in Qatar, before adding it failed to get to the root of the problem.
Campaign co-ordinator and TUC policy officer Stephen Russell told the Star: “HRW’s excellent report highlights what we’ve known for some time: protecting workers is more complicated than Qatar’s government pretends, and imposing inflexible, top-down responses to dangerous working conditions does nothing more than give Qatar flimsy cover against its critics.
“But HRW’s recommendations ignore the biggest change that would save lives — giving Qatar’s construction workers the right to refuse to carry out dangerous work, for any reason, including when it’s too hot. Qatar’s ongoing refusal to respect international labour standards and human rights puts thousands of lives at risk.”
HRW said it was concerned about a lack of detail in Qatari statistics for worker deaths and the fact the country does not take into account the effect of sunlight when setting heat-stress safety limits.
Most of all, however, the human rights group points out the vast majority of Qatar’s construction workers are not given the same level of protection as those working on World Cup stadiums.
The current rules prohibit working outdoors between 11.30am and 3pm from June 15 to August 31, when it is usually more than 40°C, but make no allowance for the actual heat or humidity, so it could hotter when work is allowed.
In a statement, HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said: “Enforcing appropriate restrictions on outdoor work and regularly investigating and publicising information about worker deaths is essential to protect the health and lives of construction workers in Qatar.
“Limiting work hours to safe temperatures — not set by a clock or calendar — is well within the capacity of the Qatari government and will help protect hundreds of thousands of workers.”
Workers are also subject to pervasive violations of basic human rights, including being forced to stay in Qatar against their will for up to five years by employers who can still legally take their workers’ passports, as well as workers having no minimum wage and wages still being set according to nationality rather than the job the worker does.
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