Browsing 'human rights' News

eDmonD uchiha/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

As Qatar celebrates the opening of its first World Cup stadium today, rights group Amnesty International is warning officials to proceed with caution.

The group had uncovered human rights violations by contractors involved in Khalifa International Stadium renovations last year.

At the time, it stated that more than 100 expats had their passports confiscated and salary payments delayed.

Construction workers at the Khalifa Stadium

Peter Kovessy / Doha News

Khalifa Stadium renovations for illustrative purposes only.

A year later, an independent audit commissioned by World Cup organizers found many contractors are continuing to work their staff too hard.

For its part, tournament organizers said at the time that “while the findings clearly state there are challenges, they also demonstrate our continued commitment to this process. We will do everything necessary to ensure the issues identified are dealt with promptly.”

‘Urgent rethink’ needed

But in a statement yesterday, Amnesty urged more drastic action, raising the issue of Qatar’s restrictive labor laws.

James Lynch, deputy director of Amnesty’s Global Issues program, said:

“Migrant workers at Khalifa International Stadium have already suffered the consequences of Qatar and FIFA’s failure to genuinely address the dangers of Qatar’s sponsorship system.

An urgent rethink is needed to prevent labour abuse becoming the legacy of the 2022 World Cup.”

Currently, about 10,000 people are working on World Cup projects in Qatar. That number is expected to surge to a peak of 36,000 workers by next year.

Gadget Dan/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Notably, this is just a fraction of Qatar’s labor force, and many of these employees have far more favorable working and living conditions than their peers who work for smaller companies.

However, authorities are under pressure to ensure the rights of all workers in the run-up to 2022.

Deaths

One litmus test for proper working and living conditions has been the fatality rate of World Cup employees.

So far, two people have died while working on stadium sites, including a British man who fell to his death at Khalifa Stadium.

However, earlier this month an Indian carpenter died of a heart attack he suffered shortly after leaving the stadium site, Reuters reports.

MOI/Facebook

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

He is at least the fourth World Cup employee to have died of cardiac arrest in the past year and a half, the newswire states.

More should be done to find out whether these deaths are related to working conditions, rights groups have argued.

Speaking to Reuters yesterday, Gulf labor researcher Mustafa Qadri said:

“Workers dying suddenly from heart attacks is something we hear about often, the causes are not always clear.

But we’re moving now into the hottest time of the year when the risk of fatality increases. When a worker dies, Qatar needs to get to the bottom of what happened. People’s lives are in danger.”

Thoughts?

MME

Shaded rubbish trolleys

With summer now well underway in Qatar, officials are rolling out some new equipment to help outdoor workers stay a little cooler.

Rubbish trolleys used by cleaners now have shades on them to protect the employees from direct sunlight.

The move was announced yesterday by the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME).

The trolleys will be rolled out across Qatar this week, and have drawn praise from many residents who thanked authorities for their thoughtfulness.

 

Other creative initiatives to protect workers during Qatar’s summers have included outfitting them with cooling helmets and other gear.

In 2015, air conditioning was also mandated on worker transport, but compliance has been spotty since then.

Waiting for June

While the new extra shades are likely appreciated, summertime always poses a challenge for outdoor workers, who are vulnerable to heat stroke and other illnesses.

This is especially the case before the midday work ban takes effect in June.

Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Even though temperatures are already hitting the low 40Cs (>104F) this month, many construction workers, cleaners and gardeners are still toiling outside during the hottest part of the day.

Employers are not yet legally required to do anything about this until June 15.

From then until the end of August, outdoor workers are given a reprieve from 11:30am to 3pm and can work no more than five-hour shifts in the morning.

Speaking to Doha News previously, employees said working under the sun is difficult in May, but “part of the job.”

One man said:

“We just take short breaks or cover our faces and necks with scarves to protect ourselves from the heat. The company can’t do anything else. The weather is hot. What can we do?”

Thoughts?

Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Employers in Qatar must understand that ensuring their workers’ safety and health is a win-win situation for everyone, an international organization has said.

This not only leads to a satisfied workforce, but also a productive one – and provides a reputation boost for the companies involved, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) added.

During its annual Middle Eastern conference in Doha this week, IOSH released a five-year strategy to boost worker wellness across the world.

J. Zach Hollo

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The plan is particularly pertinent in Qatar, where construction firms have come under intense scrutiny since the country was awarded the 2022 World Cup.

Many high-profile projects in Qatar enforce strict health and safety standards.

But Amnesty International and other organizations have long documented the comparatively dismal safety record of projects that are not in the spotlight.

Biggest challenges

According to Ala’a Sukhni, the vice-chair of IOSH’s Qatar branch, the biggest challenges health and safety professionals face in the country are falls from a height, and illnesses caused by the heat and dust.

Sukhni said that there are a variety of products and solutions that can help reduce this risk, and that IOSH encourages Qatar-based companies to invest in them.

Shabina S. Khatri

Lower criminal court in Doha

Several Qatar firms were convicted of manslaughter and fined last year after workers were killed on the job.

Four of the deaths were deemed to have been caused by falls due to poor signage and lighting, poor supervision and a lack of safety equipment.

Summer is near

As the weather heats up, Sukhni also offered several tips on how companies can best protect their workers from the heat and dust.

They include:

  • Setting up an air-conditioned room where workers can spend their breaks and eat their meals;
  • Making sure employees avoid working in direct sun wherever possible;
  • Supplying adequate quantities of cooled water for drinking, particularly on hot days;
  • Mandating a 15-minute break each hour during the hottest months of the year. That break must be taken in an air-conditioned environment, and workers must be encouraged to drink and eat during this break;
  • Spraying water on dusty areas to reduce swirling dust; and
  • Providing loose clothing and visors to protect workers against dust.

Richard Messenger/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

“Our officials are working hard to provide guidance on this,” Sukhni told Doha News. “It’s important that there is more awareness of the importance of these measures.”

New government guidelines

IOSH is not the only entity calling for improvements in Qatar’s approach to health and safety on construction sites.

The country’s own Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME) has also recently released new guidelines designed to make workplaces safer.

The guide includes advice on things like proper fencing and signs, working hours, traffic management, the transportation of construction material, scaffolding, lights and noise levels.

It also urges developers to consider the environmental aspects of their sites, keeping in mind their footprint on nearby plants, local wildlife and public spaces.

Reputations at stake

One way to persuade more firms to take better care of their workers is to emphasize the importance of a good public image and reputation.

According to a recent IOSH survey, executives of local construction firms are aware that they are being judged by their health and safety record.

Mohamad Alodaima/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Ninety-one percent of 250 MENA business leaders surveyed told IOSH that they believed investing in the health and safety of their workforce was essential to ensuring their business had a good reputation.

Eighty-five percent also said that their employees’ health and safety was a top priority at board level.

Promoting best practice

According to Sukhni, one of the ways best ways to tackle Qatar’s health and safety challenges is to emphasize international best practice and explain why this benefits everyone.

“We have 455 IOSH members in Qatar, and we work across all industries.” Sukhni told Doha News. “The country is ambitious about growth, so it’s important to improve health and safety at the same time. Our members play a vital role in this.”

To help them spread the word, Sukhni’s Qatar branch organizes regular site visits so that its members can see how their competitors are working to ensure the safety of their staff.

Reem Saad / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

It also focuses on the importance of training and the provision of proper equipment.

Most importantly, according to Sukhni, the aim is to prevent safety issues in the first place.

“We always try to avoid the hazard completely. But where it’s not possible, we need to reduce exposure or provide personal protective equipment as a last resort,” he said.

Thoughts?