‘Qatar is acting like a 21st century slave state’, delegates attending the UEFA Congress in London heard.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) are backing calls for FIFA to re-run the vote for the 2022 tournament should the Qatari government refuse reforms.
The delegates were lobbied by unions to secure better treatment for foreign footballers currently playing in the Gulf state and for migrant workers employed on the construction of stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Low rates of pay, excessive working hours, a ban on joining unions, poor safety standards and numerous abuses under the country’s strict visa sponsorship system have led to accusations that Qatar is acting like a 21st century slave state.
Delegates were handed petitions detailing abuses of players’ and workers’ rights in Qatar, and signed by thousands of football fans from around the globe.
The ITUC has produced a spoof football fanzine Workers United which features the cases of two professional footballers recruited to play in Qatar after playing in France:
• French/Algerian striker Zahir Belounis is trapped in Qatar after being recruited to play for a national team. He is owed wages and is threatening hunger strike unless the conditions of his contract are met and his exit papers are signed so he can leave the country.
• Moroccan International Abdeslam Ouaddou, who has played for AS Nancy-Lorraine and Fulham, is owed wages after his contract to 2015 was not honoured by his Qatari club. Ouaddou was isolated from his team mates and forced to train in the summer heat.
Unions have written to UEFA President Michel Platini, urging him to use the London Congress to:
• Elect members to the FIFA Executive Committee who will be committed to reform and to upholding human and union rights.
• Brief UEFA delegates attending the FIFA Congress in Mauritius next week about the difficult working conditions in Qatar – both for footballers currently signed to clubs and for construction workers tasked with building the World Cup infrastructure.
• Receive a petition from the ITUC and TUC calling on FIFA to re-run the vote for the 2022 World Cup unless Qatar reforms its ways.
Trade unions are campaigning for FIFA to re-run the vote for the Qatar 2022 World Cup because of the failure of FIFA to put any serious pressure on Qatar to reform its labour laws.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: ‘Calls for FIFA to re-run the vote for the 2022 World Cup come after years of broken promises from FIFA and Qatar to reform.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘There is still time to re-run the vote, as the 2022 World Cup was awarded seven years ahead of schedule.
‘More workers will die building World Cup infrastructure than players will take to the football pitch unless steps are taken to reform working conditions in Qatar.
‘The number of workers killed in the construction industry in Qatar each year is up to eight times higher than in the UK and other developed countries.
‘With the UEFA Congress here in London, we cannot let delegates ignore workers’ deaths and injuries.
‘Football fans everywhere will be shocked to learn of the way in which workers are treated – conditions akin to a modern form of slavery – and will want UEFA’s support to put pressure on Qatar to reform or risk having FIFA re-run the vote for the 2022 World Cup.’
Football fans and trade union members are being encouraged to join the campaign at www.rerunthevote.org in one of the largest global campaigns embarked upon by international unions in recent years.
Meanwhile in the United Arab Emirates (UAE,) ‘most companies are forcing their workers to live in squalor and a worryingly high number of workers die due to unsafe conditions’, claimed Sharan Burrow, ITU general secretary.
Last Monday, Arabtec, a massive construction firm with interests across the oil-rich Gulf states, backed by state security, broke a strike and are now deporting workers for supporting the strike.
Ashraf a scaffolding installer at Arabtec reported that 20-25 people just got deportation letters from the company.
He said: ‘When we got news of the first deportation last Monday, everyone came down shouting.
‘The police came, we just went back to our rooms. People were trying to be part of the group without coming to the front’.
ITUC leader Burrow, said: ‘Unions and strikes are illegal in Dubai and across the Gulf. Rather than demonstrating or holding placards, a few thousand workers simply stayed in their accommodations last weekend and didn’t show up for work’.
The strike ended after management refused to accept demands for increased wages from people earning about $200 a month.
Worker demands varied from a monthly pay rise of between $100-$135, while others wanted the free food that they say was promised.
Burrows continued: ‘How many workers downed their tools or how many received deportation orders is unclear, but dozens if not hundreds will be forced to leave the country they have helped to build.’
Arabtec, Dubai’s largest firm, employs tens of thousands of workers on the city’s airport, the Abu Dhabi branch of the Louvre museum, and other high-profile projects. They were builders for the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.
The company pledged projects would be delivered on time in spite of the strike and said it has been working closely with the Dubai Police and the UAE’s Ministry of Labour, to ‘resolve a partial workers stoppage.’
The Labour Ministry say Arabtec is paying the workers according to contracts.
In a series of barracks-style labour camps located in Sonapur or the ‘land of God’ and guarded by private security, 200,000 workers live in barracks of 2,500. Men live five to a room with 40 or 50 men sharing a bathroom.
Burrows continued: ‘Most companies are forcing their workers to live in squalor.
‘An unconscionable number of workers die due to unsafe conditions. These governments are abusing migrant workers.’
The wage gap between Emirati citizens and Western technocrat on the one hand, and the immigrant working class on the other, is massive.
Only 20 per cent of the UAE’s roughly 7.9 million residents are citizens. To attain citizenship, a person must usually demonstrate a blood connection on the father’s side to the Emirates’ original inhabitants.
Under the kefala system, a worker’s legal status in the country is tied to his employer. Foreigners cannot change jobs without permission from their company.
Dubai businesses on the other hand say a lack of collective bargaining rights is good for workers, as it leads to more growth and job creation and that part of the reason why countries such as France are in the economic doldrums, is because the labour market is overly regulated and employees spend more time protesting than actually working.
Strikes and protests by workers are considered a security risk.
Stuart Poole-Robb, CEO who once worked in the UAE helping with security for a petroleum facility, said ‘conditions in the labour camps could pose a risk to the UAE’s broader stability acting like a ‘Trojan horse’ where workers could be influenced by outsiders like Iran.