As Global Focus Shifts to Covid-19, Qatar’s Migrant Labour Concerns Go Ignored

Long working hours! Underpaid salaries! No medical insurance and a life distant from loved ones! These are just some of the migrant labour concerns that have gained centerstage whenever the issue of migrant labourers exploitation is highlighted. It is well-known that the pandemic encouraged employers to take undue advantage of labourers distress, forcing them to work under inhumane conditions!

Home to over 2.1 million migrant labourers, Qatar has always been extensively criticized for its poor human rights record. As the country gears itself for hosting FIFA World Cup 2022 amidst Covid-19, its migrant workforce is struggling like never before. The plight of migrants (from Nepal, Philippines, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Bangladesh, Kenya and Sri Lanka) working in Qatar as construction workers had gained popularity early this year when “The Guardian” released a heinous account of death of 6,500 migrant workers in Qatar.

The article bespoke stories of devastated livelihoods who now mourn the death of their sole breadwinner in Qatar’s construction sites. While families of the dead remain confused about the actual cause of their loved one’s death, those still working in Qatar’s unsafe construction sites continue to complain of precarious working conditions. Yet, their pleas fall on deaf years as the world’s focus has apparently shifted to Covid-19 and migrant labour concerns seem to be forgotten.

Anonymous accounts from migrants working in Qatar have revealed how employers force them to work on meagre wages under scorching heat waves with no medical protection on dangerous construction sites. Such inhuman working conditions continue to persist due to the existence of ‘kafala system’ that binds migrant employees to their employers will.

As stated by a Philippian worker in Qatar, some employers cut two day pay if an employee takes even a single leave on account of sickness. Some even reject resignations and confiscate employees’ passports. Subjecting people to such forms of mental pressure at a time when the world needs to join hands against Covid is inhuman in every way!

While migrants are denied advocate workers’ rights in most countries, Qatar’s untenable working conditions disregard migrant labour concerns of consular protection at FIFA construction sites. Recently, Norway’s football team asked for a boycott to the World Cup post which a Norwegian FA has been set up to enquire the issue. Another incident recorded many German players wearing T-shirts with human rights messages to raise questions about Qatar’s plans to sportswash its image.

Even as the country boasts of recent amendments in its ‘kafala system’, including the removal of exit visa for domestic workers, effective law execution remains a challenge. As reported by MigrantRights.org, the country’s authorities are considering employer’s recommendations to deny migrants the right to switching jobs within the contract.

Social media has also brought to light various migrant labour concerns in recent time span. Twitter statements by Journalist and Filmmaker Benjamin Best have revealed how a migrant labour -Narayan and many of his colleagues were arrested under false pretenses and were later deported to Nepal. They were caught under claims of corona testing, but pushed into jail instead. It is worth noting that their employers completely denied any help. All this for no crime at all!

Considering Qatar’s shear negligence of migrant labour concerns and the rising death toll of construction workers there, one must think if the country’s high-end airport, smooth public transport systems and luxurious hotels are actually worthy of tourist visits. Are we as tourists supposed to put a blind eye to such grave human rights issues and explore only the beauteous in everything?

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