Qatar World Cup deadly for migrant workers, says trade union group

Trade union group predicts death toll among migrant workers at sites could hit 600 a year

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 4:28am

Qatar's construction frenzy ahead of the 2022 World Cup is on course to cost the lives of at least 4,000 migrant workers, the International Trade Union Congress has claimed.

The group has been scrutinising builders' deaths in the gulf emirate and said at least half a million more workers from countries including Nepal, India and Sri Lanka were expected to flood in to complete stadiums, hotels and infrastructure in time for the World Cup kick-off.

The annual death toll among those working on building sites could rise to 600 a year - almost a dozen a week - unless the Doha government made urgent reforms, it said.

The congress has based the estimate on present mortality figures for Nepalese and Indian workers, who form the bulk of Qatar's 1.2 million-strong migrant work force. Most of them are builders.

While it admits that the cause of death is not clear for many of the deceased - with autopsies often not being conducted and routine attribution to heart failure - it believes harsh and dangerous conditions at work and cramped and squalid living quarters are to blame.

The stark warning came after a Guardian investigation revealed that 44 Nepalese workers died between June 4 and August 8 this year, about half from heart failure or workplace accidents.

Workers described forced labour in 50 degree Celsius heat, employers who retained salaries and passports, making it impossible for them to leave, and the denial of free drinking water. The investigation found sickness is endemic among workers living in overcrowded conditions.

The Indian ambassador in Qatar has said 82 Indian workers died in the first five months of this year, while 1,460 complained about labour conditions and consular problems. More than 700 Indian workers died in Qatar between 2010 and 2012.

Without changes to working practices, more workers would die building the infrastructure in the run up to the World Cup than players would take to the field, the congress has warned.

"Nothing of any substance is being done by the Qatar authorities on this issue," said Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the Brussels-based organisation.

"The evidence-based assessment of the mortality rate of migrant workers in Qatar shows that at least one worker on average per day is dying. In the absence of real measures to tackle that and an increase in 50 per cent of the migrant workforce, there will be a concomitant increase in deaths."

Asked to comment on the prediction of thousands of deaths, a spokesman for the Qatar 2022 supreme committee said organisers were "appalled" by the revelations about the deaths of Nepalese workers.

"The health, safety, wellbeing and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 Fifa World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar," the spokesman said.