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A new report by the Daily Mirror has claimed more than 1,000 people have been worked to death in Qatar while helping to construct S$81.7 billion worth of buildings in the lead-up to the 2022 World Cup.
The report revealed the exploitation of migrant workers, who live in shocking conditions, are forced to drink salt water, have their passports revoked, and get paid little more than 57p (S$1.19) an hour.
“Campaigners fear the death toll could reach 4,000 before the Finals kick off,” the report states.
According to the article’s author, who travelled to Qatar on a mission organised by the Geneva-based Building and Woodworkers’ International, he witnessed mistreatment and squalid labour camps – a huge juxtaposition from the men in Ferraris and Rolls Royce’s driving just metres away.
One Nepalese carpenter, who said he earned the equivalent of S$2 an hour, told him: “We’re treated like slaves. They don’t see us as human and our deaths are cheap. They have our passports so we cannot go home. We are trapped.”
Despite Qatar’s promises to improve its labour laws, following criticism from human rights groups all over the world, the report indicates there is much more that needs to be done.
Last month, the European Parliament subcommittee on human rights decided to help Qatar introduce labour reforms after a hearing with several witnesses, including human rights groups and the UN’s International Labour Organisation.
Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organisers also said they would penalise contractors who violate the welfare of construction workers.
But with Qatar increasing the number of its estimated 1.8 million foreign workers to work on projects related to the event, such violations will likely remain difficult to police.
A separate article by Phillipe Auclair for Eurosport explained how many migrant workers get trapped into dodgy deals with employment agencies:
“The recruitment process itself is highly suspect, relying on a system of sponsorship via placement agencies which is widely abused; passports may be confiscated on arrival; and, once in situ, those immigrants are routinely denied basic rights granted to workers in most parts of the world. They are de facto non-citizens,” he wrote.
The Mirror article also claimed the Nepalese labour attaché in Doha, Indra Dev Pandev, said last year a total of 195 Nepalese workers died, bringing the total close to 400 over the past two years.
Of the 195, 12 were suicides, 22 were classed as “dying on work sites” and 38 were from road accidents. Another 123 died from “heart attacks”, which the author points out is rather unlikely for many young men working on site.
Worker deaths on construction sites have been hitting the headlines locally this year as well, with a total of 13 worksite fatalities recorded in Singapore this year alone from accidents.
While Singapore has made significant efforts to crack down on workplace safety regulations and treatment of migrant workers, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said earlier this year he was “appalled” at the number of accidents and re-emphasised it is the responsibility of employers to ensure their workers are safe.