Migrant security guards in Qatar have gone up to three years without a day off, according to a damning new Amnesty International report which casts doubt on World Cup human rights progress.
Days after Doha political leaders claimed worker rights are on a par with the west, campaigners released research claiming private sector “employers are still exploiting… in plain sight.”
In Amnesty International’s new 73-page report They Think That We’re Machines, a Bangladeshi security guard details how he worked for three years without a day off. Fifa, the report claims separately, has been “slow to respond to abuses affecting workers on World Cup-related projects”.
According to the report, projects linked to this November’s World Cup in the gulf state have conditions for security workers which amount to forced labour. “The security guards, all migrant workers, described routinely working 12 hours a day, seven days a week – often for months or even years on end without a day off,” Amnesty International said.
“Most said their employers refused to respect the weekly rest day which is required by Qatari law, and workers who took their day off faced being punished with arbitrary wage deductions. One man described his first year in Qatar as ‘survival of the fittest’.”
The report comes after Gianni Infantino, the Fifa president, and World Cup organizers watched on awkwardly last week as Lise Klaveness, a Norway football chief, expressed concerns.
Appearing on stage in Qatar, Klaveness criticized the decision to award the tournament to the Gulf nation, citing both migrant worker rights issues and laws criminalizing same-sex relationships.
However, Hassan Al Thawadi, the secretary general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee overseeing World Cup delivery, was critical of Klaveness’ comments. “For years and decades our region and our country has too often been defined through a prism of conflict, war and the ensuing stereotypes and assumptions that result from a lack of familiarity, a lack of understanding and have highlighted the divisions between east and west, ” he told Congress. “The most important legacy of this World Cup will be to serve as an antidote to this criticism.”
Players’ union Fifpro is pushing for a drop in center for migrant workers to make sure they are aware of legislation passed to tackle the ‘kafala’ system, which binds foreign workers to their employers.
A total of 34 workers employed by eight different private companies which provided services for sites including government ministries and football stadiums were interviewed for the new Amnesty International report. At least three of the companies provided security for recent Fifa tournaments, including the Club World Cup and the Fifa Arab Cup.
Qatari law and regulations restrict weekly working hours to a 60-hour maximum, including overtime, with workers entitled to one full, paid rest day each week. Despite this, 29 of the 34 security guards who spoke to Amnesty International said they regularly worked 12 hours a day, and 28 said they were routinely denied a day off, meaning many worked 84 hours per week, for weeks on end.
Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice, said: “Employers are still exploiting their workers in plain sight, and the Qatari authorities must take urgent measures to protect workers and hold abusers accountable. Many of the security guards we spoke to knew their employers were breaking the law but felt powerless to challenge them.”
The Qatari organizing committee and Fifa have been contacted for comment.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.