French football officials to check migrant workers’ conditions at team base in Qatar

The FIFA World Cup this year will see the tournament hosted in the Middle East for the first time in history.

The French Football Federation (FFF) announced on Friday that it will send a delegation to Qatar to inspect migrant workers’ working conditions at the national team’s base ahead of the upcoming World Cup.

The move was announced following the release of a joint documentary broadcast by France Televisions and Radio France that revealed living conditions at the team’s World Cup base in Doha, Reuters reported.

Footage showed congested bedrooms, dirty kitchens, and bathrooms in the accommodations for employees of a private security firm subcontracted by the hotel where France will stay for the tournament, which runs from November 20 to December 18.

Some employees interviewed said they were not paid for overtime and rarely got a day off.

However, when the documentary showed footage of the living quarters to FFF president Noel Le Graet, he responded that the accommodations  only needed “a lick of paint,” Reuters reported.

“It’s not unsolvable, there’s still time to fix it,” he said. “I could show you lots of pictures like that in lots of countries, even in some not far from (France).”

Amelie Oudea-Castera, France’s sports minister, told RTL on Friday that Le Graet’s reaction “lacked humanity and even coherence.”

According to the documentary, the FFF terminated the contract with the security agency due to a “number of unacceptable irregularities” and launched an investigation, expected to be conducted by the French delegation in mid-October.

Recently, Paris joined other French cities that have opted to not broadcast World Cup 2022 matches on massive screens in public fan zones amid ongoing protests citing concerns over the rights of migrant workers in Qatar.

Despite being the current World Cup champion, France made similar steps in other major cities, including Lille, Strasbourg and Bordeaux.

Pierre Rabadan, the deputy mayor of Paris in charge of sports, told reporters in Paris that the decision to forgo public broadcasting of games was made because of “the conditions of the organisation of this World Cup, both on the environmental and social level.”

News of the screens protest was met with ridicule online, with many pointing towards France’s own treatment of minority groups, including refugees fleeing war and poverty worldwide.

The Gulf state has been criticised for its mistreatment of migrant workers since it secured the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, with organisations and reports citing human rights abuses, including cases of unpaid labour. 

One such report was published by The Guardian in February 2021, headlined, “Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar as it gears up for World Cup” in which it linked the “shocking” death rate to the start of the World Cup journey a decade ago.

However, the article has been disputed, with Qatari officials slamming what they described as a “misleading” figure that included the overall deaths of all Asian nationals in the country at the time, including many who had not been working on World-Cup related projects. 

Authorities also say widespread labour reforms have been unveiled to tackle the concerns, noting such efforts have been widely overlooked by critics. 

Mahmoud Qutub, the Supreme Committee’s executive director of workers’ welfare and labour rights, said on Thursday that even though there are still weaknesses in the country’s labour system, hosting the World Cup has given Qatar an opportunity to advance issues related to workers’ rights.

“We embarked on this journey after we won the World Cup bid. There was an acknowledgment at the time that gaps existed. We have demonstrated through our various ecosystems that meaningful steps can be taken to fill those gaps,” Qutub said during a public parliamentary hearing on the protection of workers’ rights in Qatar. 

Migrant workers issues and reforms

Over the last decade, Qatar has seen a number of historic labour reforms to address such concerns.

In 2021, the country introduced the region’s first ever non-discriminatory minimum wage law, triggering praise worldwide.

Doha also launched a new platform for workers’ complaints in May 2021 to enable employees to submit public violations of the labour law.

Qatar’s Wage Protection System, which requires companies to transmit all payments through Qatari banks within seven days of their due date, is now said to cover over 96% of eligible workers in Qatar.

Additional reform includes two key laws to eliminate barriers on migrant workers leaving the country and changing jobs without permission from their employers.

The new laws have the potential to strike at the core of the Kafala system, which links migrant workers to their employers, if effectively implemented. However, there are numerous cases of employers not abiding by the reforms.

Employees told Amnesty International that changing employment still comes with major obstacles and opposition from dissatisfied bosses.

Qatar’s Minister of Labour Ali Al Marri recently stated that the legislative updates and improvements in the labour sector in recent years have been “continuous and sustainable” and will continue after the World Cup.

Speaking in Strasbourg this week, the Head of Norway Football Federation Lise Klaveness admitted “these are steps in the right direction and it is my experience that the Supreme Committee really tries to meet critics and really work to make lasting changes”.

“It is important to recognise these sincere efforts by Hassan Al Thawadi and his colleagues in Supreme Committee,” she said, referencing the secretary-general of the World Cup organising body.

However, she said “the positive changes need to reach more than the 2% of workers the Supreme Committee covers. And the changes need to be lasting before we can talk about any legacy.”

Earlier this week, the CEO of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Nasser Al Khater also addressed a range of issues in an interview with Sky News, expressing multiple times that he believes Qatar is being unfairly targeted.

“We’ve taken the challenge upon ourselves and we’ve risen to that challenge,” he said.

When asked by Sky News if he felt the criticism facing the country was racist, he responded saying “I’m not going to get into what the intentions of other people are, I’m not going to get into the minds and souls of other people.”

“But you know, who knows, possibly.”

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