International union visits Qatar labour camps

Confederation of unions investigates working conditions for migrant workers in Gulf state’s construction sector.

Qatar has been criticised after reports of poor conditions in labour camps and worker deaths [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

An international confederation of labour unions for construction workers is in Qatar for a four-day trip to investigate working conditions in the country.

Eighteen members of the Geneva-based Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) arrived in the capital, Doha, on Monday to speak to migrant workers and visit building sites and labour camps in the country, which has a large construction sector and among the highest percentage of expatriate workers in the world.

Qatar has been criticised in recent weeks after an article appearing in the Guardian newspaper said there was “evidence of forced labour” on a project for the World Cup, which Qatar will host in 2022, and that dozens of Nepali workers had died this summer from workplace accidents and heart attacks.

Ambet Yuson, general secretary of BWI, told Al Jazeera the delegation was in Qatar on a “fact-finding [mission] to verify the report in the Guardian.”

Yuson said that working conditions in the country needed immediate attention. 

The mission builds on a year of organising and feedback provided by the union’s officials in the field, Yuson said.  

Reform pledges

The Qatari government has pledged to make some reforms, but denied the existence of slavery and forced labour cited in the Guardian report. Hussain Al Mulla, a Qatari official at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, termed the report a conspiracy, according to Qatari newspaper The Peninsula.

BWI, which said it had planned the Qatar trip months before the Guardian article appeared, said in a statement: “Qatar needs to enforce its good laws, such as prohibiting employers from confiscating passports and banning illegal recruitment fees.”

It also called for imposing “meaningful sanctions” on violators of labour law, and the abolition of Qatar’s “kefala” system, whereby workers are bound to a single employer and cannot easily change jobs.

On Tuesday, the delegation visited and spoke to workers at labour camps in the cities of Ras Laffan and Al Khor.

According to the union federation, some meetings initially scheduled with Qatari officials had been cancelled due to anger at BWI’s actions last week.

At a protest on October 3, members of the union gave a “red card” to FIFA – the group organising the World Cup – to demonstrate against the body’s choice of Qatar as the World Cup’s host.

Source: Al Jazeera