Nearly 45,000 construction workers building World Cup stadiums in Qatar are to share a $30m pay-out to make up for recruitment fees they handed over to unscrupulous recruitment agents.
More than 200 contractors in the tiny Gulf state have agreed to pay back the men who forked out money for middlemen in their home countries in South Asia to set them up with work in the Middle East.
The pay-out under Qatar’s Universal Reimbursement Scheme is for 44,900 workers who will receive $668 each, to be paid over the next three years.
According to the International Labour Organisation, a migrant worker living in India will on average have to pay $1,149 to the agent recruiting him to go to Qatar.
In Nepal it’s $1,054 and in The Philippines it is $480.
Recruitment fees have become a thorny issue for Qatar as it seeks to deflect criticism from human rights groups over its treatment of migrant workers building eight stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
The latest tranche of money is a large increase on the $5m promised in 2018 for 30,000 workers.
The International Trade Union Confederation has described the reimbursement of recruitment fees as a "positive step" towards getting rid of a hated system which forces many vulnerable workers into debt bondage.
The money is paid for agents to process paperwork and carry out medical checks, but many are overcharged.
Previously a worker would only be reimbursed if they could produce receipts, which rarely happens.
It led to many arriving in the Middle East already owing hundreds of pounds before they had even started work.
Under the reforms the burden of proof has been shifted onto contractors who have to pay up unless they can produce evidence that a worker has already been reimbursed.
In addition to reimbursing recruitment fees, the Doha government has also set up Workers’ Welfare Forums to deal with grievances.
This has been extended to 23,164 workers on World Cup projects and another 10,140 on other construction projects.
According to its annual report published this week, Qatar’s Supreme Committee has distributed 12,000 special cooling suits for workers to wear in the searing summer heat.
Nearly 37,000 workers have their own medical records on file, 26,573 of whom have signed up to annual health screenings.
It followed calls by the United Nations in October for workers in Qatar to be given better protection from the effects of heat and humidity.
Human Rights Watch also called on the country to "thoroughly investigate" worker deaths to uncover the true scale of heat fatalities after a study in the journal Cardiology found a high proportion of deaths on construction sites were due to heat stress.
Mahmoud Qutub, Executive Director of the Supreme Committee (SC) Workers’ Welfare Department, said: "We are encouraged by the support and commitment shown by most of our contractors as we aim to raise the bar of workers’ welfare standards across the nation.
"Our learnings and progress through the years have prepared us to extend our Workers’ Welfare Standards beyond SC construction sites. We are now actively tackling workers’ welfare issues in the hospitality sector and other host country related services such as security, accommodation and transport, along with relevant stakeholders. We hope this will contribute to a lasting legacy as part of the Middle East’s first FIFA World Cup."
- Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail
Image: Workers sit in shade in Doha, Qatar (Alex Sergeev/www.asergeev.com/CC BY-SA 3.0)