Global organisations have acknowledged the Gulf country’s significant strides in its labour laws.
Qatar says it has further improved its labour system since the end of the historic 2022 FIFA World Cup amid Amnesty International’s recent claims that the legacy for migrant workers in the Gulf nation was in “serious peril”.
“Qatar has further strengthened its labour system since the end of the tournament. Existing reforms continue to be fully implemented. Between January and August 2023, over 153,000 workers successfully transferred to new employers,” Qatar’s International Media Office (IMO) said in a statement to Doha News.
Amnesty argued that there was a decline in the Qatari government’s push for just conditions and proper work post-World Cup 2022.
“Qatar’s continuing failure to remedy abuses faced by migrant workers and adequately protect them from labour exploitation is tainting the legacy of the FIFA men’s World Cup one year on,” Amnesty said on Thursday.
The human rights organisation released the statement just days ahead of the one-year anniversary of Qatar hosting the historic global tournament.
“The World Cup accelerated labour reforms in Qatar, creating a significant and lasting tournament legacy. Qatar now leads the region on workers’ rights and labour reforms, setting an example for other countries on how a system can be successfully overhauled,” Qatar’s IMO maintained.
“The commitment to strengthen Qatar’s labour system and safeguard workers’ rights was never an initiative tied to the World Cup and was always intended to continue long after the tournament ended,” the media office told Doha News.
It went on to highlight Qatar’s efforts in its labour reforms, detailing key achievements, which included the introduction of the region’s first non-discriminatory minimum wage, 97 percent of salaries protected through the Wage Protection System and the removal of job change barriers.
The list of accomplishments included: “A simplified complaints mechanism and easier access to justice, stricter enforcement including a crackdown on the payment of illegal recruitment fees, increased awareness of workers’ rights, region-leading health and safety standards on-site and in accommodations, and regular health screenings to identify underlying conditions.”
“One year on from the World Cup, Qatar’s commitment to labour reform remains as strong as ever as we strive to establish a world-leading labour system that attracts people from all over the world to live and work in Qatar,” the IMO told Doha News.
While acknowledging some improvements such as increased freedom for workers to change jobs and exit the country, Amnesty claimed that insufficient action had been taken to address workers’ rights issues.
“Reforms belatedly introduced and weakly enforced by the Qatari government, and FIFA’s introduction of a human rights policy in 2017, failed to prevent widespread abuses occurring in the lead up to and during the tournament, and abuses continue today,” the human rights organisation noted.
A report published by the Guardian in February 2021 was criticised for its misleading headline that blamed deaths among Qatar’s South Asian community on the country’s preparations for the World Cup tournament last year.
The British publication’s article, headlined, “Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar as it gears up for World Cup” purports to link the “shocking” death rate to the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup journey more than a decade ago, failing to provide a clarification of the reasons behind the deaths.
Failing to cite official medical records to explain the circumstances of the deaths, the Guardian persisted in quoting a labour rights expert in the Gulf who claimed it is “likely” that many workers who died were employed on these World Cup infrastructure projects.
However, Qatari authorities continually slammed this as baseless.
Speaking to Doha News at the time, experts said the “deceptive” reporting is part of major Western media propaganda against Qatar.
Hassan Al Thawadi, a Qatari lawyer who was at the time the Secretary-General at the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy for World Cup 2022 Local Organising Committee, also disputed that figure in 2021, telling CNN that the Guardian’s figure was a “sensational headline” and that the report lacked context and failed to clarify the reasons behind the deaths.
In its 2021 report, Amnesty reported that Qatari officials have failed to look into “thousands” of migrant worker deaths over the last ten years, “despite evidence of links between premature deaths and unsafe working conditions”.
The advocacy group argued that the omission of these deaths from work-related records hinders families from obtaining compensation.
Meanwhile, Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic Social Justice, urged Qatar to renew efforts to improve workers’ rights.
“Qatar’s continued failure to properly enforce or strengthen its pre-World Cup labor reforms puts any potential legacy for workers in serious peril,” he said
“The government must urgently renew its commitment to protecting workers, while both FIFA and Qatar should agree to remediation plans for all those who suffered.”
Amnesty went on to outline what it views as persistent issues, including inadequate investigations into workers’ deaths, wage theft by employers and alleged ongoing abuse of migrant workers’ rights.
The organisation reiterated its 10-point plan it published in the lead-up to the World Cup last year, “which urges Qatar to improve and better enforce its labour laws to protect workers from further exploitation and ensure access to justice and reparation for all victims”.
“Qatar should not be under the illusion that just because the tournament is over its actions won’t face scrutiny and it must renew efforts to improve workers’ rights,” Cockburn noted.
In the lead up to the World Cup, Qatar faced heavy scrutiny on its human rights record, with particular focus on migrant workers in the Gulf state.
However, Doha has repeatedly stressed that it has responded to criticism by introducing major reforms over the years, most notably the dismantling of the controversial kafala, or sponsorship, system.
Scrutiny continued even throughout the sports tournament, with officials in Qatar and beyond saying the “unprecedented attack” by Western media has largely disregarded key labour reforms in the country.
Rights groups doubled down on pressure in the lead-up to the World Cup with calls to compensate migrant workers and their families.
Qatar maintained it had spent tens of billions of dollars on infrastructure since it was selected as the FIFA World Cup host in 2010.
In a statement sent to Doha News, a Qatari government official pointed towards the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund that was established in 2018 to disburse payments awarded by the Labour Dispute Settlement Committees when a company becomes insolvent and is unable to pay workers.
During the criticism at the time, FIFA, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and World Cup organisers hailed the tournament as a stimulus for modernising Qatari laws and society.
Responding to Amnesty in May, Qatari organisers pointed to “significant improvements … across accommodation standards, health and safety regulations, grievance mechanisms, healthcare provision, and reimbursements of illegal recruitment fees to workers.”
The Gulf country achieved a watershed moment in history after announcing major systematic reforms since it won the bid to host the World Cup back in 2010, working together with ILO, which set up an office in Doha, to push for massive changes.
Global organisations have also acknowledged the Gulf country’s significant strides in its labour laws.
Its labour reforms were viewed as a role model for other nations to adopt and follow, according to the director-general of the ILO Gilbert Houngbo.
Law firms have even laid out key “lessons” from Qatar for employers with workforces in Gulf countries.
According to law firm Fisher Phillips, employers around the Gulf region should create workplace regulations that adhere to local employment law requirements as well as ILO standards.
“The groundbreaking labour reforms are a positive step forward for Qatar, the Gulf and the Middle East more broadly,” the law firm argued.
“The reforms show that change is possible and will hopefully be a model for other countries in the region to follow.”
It went on to list four lessons that can be deduced from the Gulf country’s expertise, including the dismantling of the Kafala system, the heat regulations put in place, the complaints programme, and the non-discriminatory wage program.