Trade unions lodge formal complaint against Qatar

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Two international bodies urge ILO to act over refusal to allow expat workers to unionise

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Qatar’s refusal to allow migrant workers to unionise is linked to a high rate of workplace deaths and violates global standards as the wealthy Gulf state prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, labour unions have said.

The International Trade Union Confederation and the Building and Woodworkers’ International have lodged a formal complaint against Qatar with the International Labour Organisation, the two union groups said in a statement released on Friday. The ILO is a United Nations agency.

Migrant workers make up 94 per cent of the Qatari workforce, the statement said. Nearly 200 Nepalese workers die each year in the country, but the Qatari government does not publicly acknowledge the number of worker fatalities, a spokesperson from the ITUC said.

The Qatari government was not immediately available for comment.

“An event like the World Cup should be an opportunity for a wealthy nation like Qatar to modernise its social framework – and we will be putting all pressure we can to ensure that workers’ rights are improved as a result of the event,” ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said in the statement.

Qatar 2022 World Cup organisers have said they will ensure contractors adhere to international labour laws.

The tiny Gulf state has embarked on a massive domestic building programme in the runup to the tournament, with plans to spend $11bn on a new international airport, $5.5bn on a deepwater seaport and $1bn for a transport corridor in the capital, Doha. It will spend $20bn on roads.

Poor working conditions are common across the oil-rich Gulf region, where impoverished men and women from South Asia have come for decades to toil on construction sites or oil projects or to work as domestic help. Qatar has no minimum wage.

All foreign workers in the region must work for a local sponsor, and it is legally difficult to leave a job before an employment contract ends without the sponsor’s consent. Many sponsors keep their workers’ passports.

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