Bangladeshi workers at risk of abuse in Qatar World Cup preparation

The Daily Star June 16, 2012

Hundreds of thousands of South Asian migrant construction workers, including Bangladeshis in Qatar risk serious exploitation and abuse, said a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Workers reported a range of problems including unpaid wages, illegal deduction of wages, crowded and unsanitary labour camps, and unsafe working conditions, when the Gulf state is building huge stadiums to host Fifa World Cup in 2022, noted the report released on Tuesday.

They are often forced to accept jobs or working conditions they did not agree to before leaving their home countries, or to continue work under conditions of abuse, revealed the 146-page report, adding that they also face obstacles in complaining or seeking redress.

Other problems include exorbitant recruitment fees, which can take years to pay off, and routine confiscation of workers’ passports by the employers.

The New York-based rights body HRW asked Qatar to reform its laws and Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa), football’s world governing body, to ensure the rights of the expatriate workers.

Bangladesh government estimates its workers in Qatar at around 2 lakh.

Migrant workers comprise a staggering 94 percent of Qatar’s total workforce. The country may recruit up to one million more migrant construction workers in the next decade, said the report “Building a Better World Cup: Protecting Migrant Workers in Qatar Ahead of Fifa 2022.”

“Workers building stadiums won’t benefit from Qatar’s general promise to end the sponsorship system; they need a deadline for this to happen before their work for the Fifa games starts,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

Among the 73 workers interviewed by the HRW, all but four said they paid recruitment fees ranging between $726 and $3,651, borrowing from private money lenders at interest rates ranging from three to five percent per month to 100 percent interest on their debt per year.

“If I don’t pay [my debt], the bank will kick my family out from my house,” said Mahmud N, a 27-year-old Bangladeshi worker. He owed Tk 2,70,000 ($3,298) in recruitment fees.

“We don’t complain because if we complain for anything, the company will punish us,” Himal K, an 18-year-old construction worker from Nepal, told the HRW.

“Until the Qatar government seriously enforces its laws to make sure it is the employers who are paying these fees, and imposes serious penalties on companies that look the other way, this problem is not going to just disappear,” observed the rights body.