FIFA 2022 World Cup: 100 days - a decent work legacy for migrant workers in Qatar?

Today marks the 100-day countdown to the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar. For more than a decade, the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) has been campaigning for the rights and conditions of the migrant workers who were critical to that achievement. As the Tournament approaches, it is time to take stock of progress made by cooperating with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) to ensure that migrant workers were protected by high standards of occupational safety, health and welfare.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between BWI and the SC at the end of 2016 included an innovative proposal for joint occupational health and safety inspections of stadia construction and accommodation sites by trade union health and safety experts from all Continents and experts provided by the SC. BWI brought in the practical experience and knowledge of specialist union inspectors to ensure that high standards were in place on the sites, and that management of conditions and dangers was adequate. 

Since 2017, the joint BWI-SC working group has conducted 59 health and safety inspections of construction and accommodation sites around the World Cup stadia and infrastructure projects. The inspectors found 134 cases of non-compliance followed up by the SC for rectification by contractors and sub-contractors, made 172 observations and identified 57 best practices. 

The SC made great strides on enforcement showing that it is possible to produce real changes and practical improvements for migrant workers. Although challenges remain, the SC used its leverage to enforce rules even if that meant taking on employers. The joint working group ensured that there was a constant focus on workers’ employment rights concerning salaries, agency recruitment fees, accommodation facilities and contractual arrangement. The SC standards and enforcement capacity ensured a higher than industry level of protection for around 35’000 migrant workers employed in World Cup construction projects.

Through the cooperation and dialogue with BWI, a range of positive measures were implemented by the SC on occupational health and safety over the years, including:

  • comprehensive medical screening for all workers;
  • additional training for health professionals and a forum for medical practitioners to share knowledge and experience;
  • an electronic system for health recording;
  • additional training for selected trades;
  • a focus on the wellbeing and mental health of workers;
  • new methods for monitoring and mitigating the effects of heat stress.

The BWI-SC partnership has been also instrumental in making further progress in the involvement of migrant workers in the process, through the strengthening of the SC Workers’ Welfare Forums. BWI witnessed the free election of Workers’ Representatives within the Workers’ Welfare Forums and has been responsible for training 178 Workers’ Representatives to build their skills and confidence to speak without fear, and therefore better represent their fellow workers on any matter of concern. 

The FIFA World Cup in Qatar takes place in 100 days and there are still human rights challenges across the country, on construction sites.

In the 100-day countdown for a decent work legacy, the SC standards, enforcement mechanisms and implementation capacity which included the involvement of migrant workers in the process through the Workers Welfare Forums, should be enacted across the country and through all construction projects.

BWI calls for swift actions to be designed and for new steps to be taken so that improvements achieved regarding healthy and safe work and workers’ welfare standards around the World Cup construction projects are locked in and expanded throughout the entire construction sector in Qatar. 

This will entail working with migrant workers so that they can expand and articulate their voices, increase their knowledge and capacity, defend their rights, and help determine their own destinies after the World Cup.

Only then can the accomplishments be considered real and meaningful and the promise of a tangible and lasting decent work legacy of the Tournament be kept.