Qatar welcomes ILO report despite admitted data gaps

International Labour Organization calls for better data collection and investigations of injuries and fatalities that may be work-related but are not marked as such.

migrant labour workers qatar 2022 world cup lusail football stadium
Qatar experienced a major construction boom following its awarding of the 2022 World Cup [File: Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

An analysis of deaths of migrant labourers in Qatar has shown gaps in the county’s data collection and differences in the way work-related incidents are characterised, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The ILO said on Friday it collaborated with key Qatari institutions to put together its in-depth analysis of work-related injuries and deaths in 2020, but identified shortcomings in the way incidents were identified.

“As a result, it is still not possible to present a categorical figure on the number of fatal occupational injuries in the country,” the report said, calling for improvements in the way figures are gathered and investigations are conducted.

At least 50 workers died in Qatar last year, with more than 500 severely injured and some 37,600 suffering mild to moderate injuries, the ILO report, One is Too Many (PDF), said.

According to the ILO, the majority of workers who suffered occupational injuries came from Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

“Falls from height and road traffic accidents were the top causes of severe injuries, followed by falling objects on worksites,” it added.

‘More work to be done’

Working conditions for migrant labourers in Qatar have been under the spotlight since the Gulf state was awarded in 2010 the hosting of football’s 2022 World Cup.

In a statement later on Friday, Qatar’s Ministry of Labour welcomed the ILO’s report and said it was reviewing its recommendations.

“No other country has come so far on labour reform in such a short amount of time, but we acknowledge that there is more work to be done,” the ministry’s statement added, noting that Qatar will continue working with the ILO to ensure the changes “are implemented effectively”.

“As Qatar has continuously stated and as the ILO report confirms, figures reported in media on migrant worker fatalities have been wildly misleading. The government has been transparent about the health of our foreign population, and in reality, levels of mortality in Qatar are on par with wider demographics globally. Still, improving the health and well-being of foreign workers remains a top priority,” the Ministry of Labour statement said.

“The report in fact points to a “significant decline in the rate of occupational injuries” over time, demonstrating our strong labour reform legislation and the success of our implementation mechanisms. Qatar is also proud to note that there has been a “drastic decline” in heat-stress related disorders, thanks in large part to heat stress legislation adopted in May 2021,” the ministry added.

In August, London-based watchdog Amnesty International accused Qatari authorities of failing to investigate the deaths of migrant workers, “despite evidence of links between premature deaths and unsafe working conditions”.

It said that “Qatar routinely issues death certificates for migrant workers without conducting adequate investigations, instead attributing deaths to ‘natural causes’ or vaguely defined cardiac failures”.

Qatar’s Government Communications Office at the time rejected Amnesty’s findings, saying in a statement the country’s “injury and mortality statistics are in line with international best practice and set new standards for the region”.

In its report, the ILO called for a “review of the approach taken to investigating deaths of seemingly healthy young workers from ‘natural causes’, to be able to determine whether they are in fact work-related, and ensure more accurate identification of the cause”.

This, it said, will ensure workers and their families receive due compensation in case of occupational injuries.

The organisation also called for the establishment of a national integrated platform that compiles timely and reliable occupational injury data.

“The transparency shown in the review of the data collection and analysis processes has allowed us to put forward a set of concrete recommendations that can serve as a road map for action,” said Max Tuñón, head of the ILO Project Office in Qatar.

“We must move with urgency, as behind each statistic there is a worker and their family.”

Qatar’s labour ministry added it would “continue to work constructively with a range of labour experts and practitioners – including the ILO, trade unions and international NGOs – to build on the progress that has been made”.

“Labour reform is a complex task, and Qatar believes that solutions are best found through dialogue and engagement,” the ministry’s statement said.

Source: Al Jazeera