Qatar balances worker welfare as stadium construction speeds up

Construction workers queue at Khalifa Stadium

Peter Kovessy / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

No work-related fatalities have been recorded on Qatar’s World Cup construction sites, even as stadium construction has intensified over the last year, according to local tournament organizers.

However, two Indian nationals in their 50s employed on World Cup projects have died in incidents unrelated to their work.

And six individuals suffered serious injuries, ranging from a fractured ankle to the amputation of one worker’s fingertip after it became caught between two steel beams, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL) said in its latest worker welfare report.

Such disclosures are rare in Qatar, where official reports of injuries and deaths involving blue-collar expats are not usually publicly released.

Worker welfare progress report.

SCDL

Worker welfare progress report.

According to the 46-page Workers’ Welfare Progress Report (PDF), which came out today, a 52-year-old painter working on the Khalifa International Stadium site went into cardiac arrest during lunch at one of the site’s dining halls and died in the hospital in October.

And last month, a 55-year-old truck driver suffered a heart attack in his accommodation and later passed away.

While human rights organizations have previously highlighted what they believe to be an unnaturally high number of young men dying from heart attacks after working in Qatar’s intense summer heat, both deaths occurred during the country’s cooler months not long after the men were assigned to World Cup-related projects, officials said.

Changes afoot

The latest welfare report is based on a series of self-audits by contractors working on World Cup sites and investigations by SCDL staff into whether construction firms are complying with the organization’s labor standards.

Introduced in 2014, the provisions set by the SCDL go beyond what’s required by Qatar’s laws and cover recruitment policies, payment terms, overtime provisions and accommodation standards.

Human rights advocates have welcomed these measures, but also point out that the majority of Qatar’s blue-collar expats work on projects unrelated to the 2022 World Cup and continue to be vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their sponsors.

However, SCDL officials said some of their initiatives have begun inspiring others in the construction industry to make changes.

“You see improvement happening … other contractors are applying our standards,” SCDL secretary-general Hassan Al Thawadi told Doha News.

For example, Nakheel Landscapes – which is developing temporary training pitches at Al Rayyan Stadium – recently moved its 140 World Cup workers out of accommodation that SCDL inspectors said has “significant challenges.”

But the company also relocated more than 1,000 other employees not working on the tournament to the newly constructed Labor City, and plans to move the majority of its 4,000-odd staff this spring.

Labor City

Video still

Labor City

In another instance, HBK Contracting Co. – which was hired to do preliminary work on the Al Wakrah Stadium site – rented 18 villas in a compound close to the project and added features and services such as a computer room, catered meals and a full-time doctor to meet SCDL standards, according to the report.

That led other companies that rented villas in the compound but were not working on World Cup projects to undertake similar upgrades.

Recruitment fees

While the SCDL said it has made progress in improving worker housing, it conceded that it’s aware of “serious issues” related to the recruitment of workers coming to Qatar, namely the “very common” practice of expats paying fees to agents in their home country.

“It’s one of the biggest challenges we face,” Al Thawadi said.

Wakrah Stadium site

Mohammed Dabbous/Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

Wakrah Stadium site

These fees are particularly problematic, rights groups have said, because expats are typically forced to take out loans – often at exorbitant interest rates – before moving here.

SCDL’s policies stipulate that expats should not pay fees to come to Qatar. Practically, however, that can be difficult to enforce.

Many of the blue-collar workers currently constructing Qatar’s new football stadiums were not recruited for the World Cup. Instead, they arrived several years ago to work on other projects and were reassigned after their employer was awarded work by the SCDL, officials say.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Business2community.com

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

But as the need for additional workers increases in the coming years, SCDL officials said they plan to travel to labor-sending countries and meet with recruiting agents to explain their requirements. This includes charging the construction companies in Qatar, rather than migrants, recruitment fees.

Additionally, SCDL officials said they are working with NGOs such as Humanity United to explore technological solutions that would cut out recruitment agents altogether.

For example, if a company in Qatar needed to hire more staff, it could post its positions online and registered residents of countries such as Nepal would receive a WhatsApp message that alerts them of the job opportunity.

Manpower agencies

Another area the SCDL said it wants to address is improving oversight of the use of subcontractors and labor supply companies to ensure all firms are complying with the organization’s standards.

Al Thawadi said the SCDL has already ordered one subcontractor to be removed from a team of companies that won a World Cup contract because the firm failed to correctly disclose the actual employer of the workers it deployed on another project, among other transgressions.

“They were taken off the project they were already awarded and given a clear message: ‘If you don’t improve, you will be taken of all our projects,’” Al Thawadi said, declining to name the firm.

While the use of labor supply firms is common in the construction industry, workers employed by manpower agencies are particularly vulnerable, said Amnesty International researcher Mustafa Qadri.

These smaller companies are more likely to be on site for shorter periods, have informal employment arrangements with workers and be in a financially precarious situation, which could cause them to cut corners if they start running out of work, Qadri told Doha News.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Mohamad Nuski/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qadri said he would welcome any concrete efforts by the SCDL to identify the manpower companies sending their employees to World Cup sites, determine how much they are being paid and inspect their living conditions.

“Businesses (in Qatar) don’t have the full picture of who is working on their sites,” he said.

Qadri said he still has concerns that laborers on World Cup construction sites will be abused. He said he’d like to see more proactive investigations conducted into the living and working conditions of blue-collar migrants that go beyond checking for compliance to SCDL standards.

To this end, Qadri said he welcomed news that the SCDL plans to hire an external monitor to conduct ad-hoc audits of World Cup contractors and subcontractors.

“There would appear to be a genuine effort on the part of the SCDL to tackle this very challenging issue of abuse of migrant workers on World Cup sites,” he said, adding, “It shows there is potential for the World Cup to be a positive move for human rights in Qatar.”

Here’s the full report:

Thoughts?

Doha
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wind: 16km/h NW
H 22 • L 12
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Tour of Qatar course design questioned following crash

Stage 2 of the 2016 Tour of Qatar.

Paumer Kare Dhelie Thorstad / Qatar Cycling Federation

Stage 2 of the 2016 Tour of Qatar.

A crash that left a Tour of Qatar cyclist with a broken collarbone this week has prompted calls for race organizers to improve the safety standards of the course design.

Yesterday’s incident took place in the final 500m when several riders crossed through a gap in the road’s concrete median.

According to Velonews, at least one rider said the incident could have “easily been avoided” with proper barricades.

“We are not asking for all risk to be removed from pro cycling. We simply ask that race organizers use the most basic common sense to make courses safe in the most dangerous part of the course – the last 5 km,” Michael Carcaise, the executive director of the Association of North American Professional Road Cyclists, said, according to Cyclingnews.

Today’s 11km stage runs alongside the Losail International Circuit, sports arena and shooting complex.

Thoughts?

Pakistan Prime Minister to arrive in Qatar today for two-day visit

Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif

UN/Flickr

Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif

Qatar’s Emir and other senior officials will meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan this week to discuss a multi-billion dollar LNG deal, among other things.

Sharif’s visit comes almost a year after the Emir’s first trip to Pakistan to discuss the agreement and other matters.

Reuters reports senior Pakistani officials as saying that a “very viable deal” involving a 15-year contract for 3.5 million tonnes of LNG
has been secured with Qatar following the sharp drop in oil prices.

Employment

Other topics of discussion will include employment opportunities for Pakistanis, according to the Peninsula.

There are currently some 115,000 nationals working here in various sectors, the newspaper added.

Last summer, the Pakistani government said it was training some 200,000 of its people to work as blue-collar workers in Qatar to help build the Gulf country’s infrastructure in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup.

Pakistani Air Force

Aperture Sensation

Pakistani Air Force

Defense is another area that will be touched upon.

The Pakistani embassy in Doha said to mark Sharif’s visit, the Pakistani Air Force will perform a private demonstration for the PM, the Emir and other high ranking officials this afternoon.

Thoughts?

Thousands head outdoors to enjoy Qatar National Sport Day 2016

All photos of Aspire Zone activities by Baba Tamim

Thousands of people thronged to the Aspire Zone and other hotspots around Qatar to mark the fifth annual National Sport Day.

Windy weather aside, many said they enjoyed the wide range of activities set up at Katara Cultural Village, the Pearl-Qatar, Aspire Zone and other places.

The MOI has been tweeting pictures of an event for people with special needs:

A whole host of runners took part in the annual Doha Dash at the Losail circuit. Participants had a choice of the 10km, 5km, 3km & Mini Dash for kids:

Meanwhile, a beach at The Pearl-Qatar has been turned into a venue for the area’s celebrations:

Over at Asian Town in the Industrial Area, Qatar’s Minister of Culture and Sports Salah bin Ghanem al-Ali used the occasion to express his appreciation for all those who have helped to build the country:

nstagram user Juma Al Mohanadi posted this image of events at Katara, where visitors are being treated to Karate demonstrations, wrestling, weightlifting, sailing, basketball, table tennis and rugby.


Speaking to Doha News at the Aspire Zone, Muhammad Jarallah expressed pride in Qatar for hosting such a day, saying:

“On this day we get together with rest of the citizens and expats and play sports. We want to show the world how important sports (is) to us. It’s good for both body and brain and the community.”

How has your day been so far?