Will the 2022 World Cup Be Built “On the Blood of Innocents”?

Wage and hour cases are not the sole province of the U.S. Last year, nearly 200 migrant laborers from Nepal died in the country of Qatar while working on construction projects in that country. To protect the rights and welfare of migrant employees, the International Labor Organization, together with officials in Qatar, constructed a 50-page document. These guidelines aim to protect migrants working on creating the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup, which will be held in Qatar.

FIFA, the world governing body for the sport of football, had demanded that Qatar reform its working practices. However, independent organizations, such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), say that the new proposed guidelines will fall far short of what’s needed. Qatar uses an employment system known as “kefala,” that gives sponsor companies huge rights over the lives of migrant workers. For instance, workers cannot get an exit visa from Qatar without first getting permission from their employers.

Qatar’s so-called “World Cup Supreme Committee” has tried to upgrade the welfare standards for workers, who include contractors and subcontractors working on the World Cup stadium. The committee argues that the new guidelines will be “robustly and effectively monitored and enforced for the benefits of all workers.”

What will these new guidelines provide?

• A telephone hotline will be available for workers to report grievances and concerns;
• Workers will get three weeks paid holiday every year;
• Assuming a 48-hour work week, workers cannot work more than 8 hours a day;
• Workers will get a rest day every week or be compensated for extra work;
• A forum to resolve grievances will be created.

The ITUC, nevertheless, is less than impressed. The body claims that 4,000 migrant workers could die in Qatar by 2022, unless more substantive changes are made. The ITUC calls the workers welfare standards charter “a sham” that will do little to shield workers from abuse. Sharon Burrow, the General Secretary of ITUC said, “These standards are built on an old, discredited self-monitoring system which has failed in the past in Bangladesh and other countries, where thousands of workers have died.”

Qatar plans to spend $200 billion on infrastructure projects related to the World Cup, so clearly a ton of money is at stake for the country, and the decision by FIFA to pull the World Cup from Qatar would have huge economic ramifications both for that country and for the general region.

This story also illustrates how the fight for workers’ rights and fair compensation is a global one.

If you have had problems closer to home, the team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum would love to hear your story and advise you about your rights. Call us today at (212) 688-5640 or connect with us at info@jhllp.com.