DOHA: A Qatari announcement which had been heralded as a major step forward on workers’ rights threatened to backfire as expectant critics denounced it as “cosmetic”.
Such was the uncertainty that FIFA president Sepp Blatter and executive colleague Theo Zwanziger subsequently cancelled a scheduled visit to the 2022 World Cup host to weigh up quote what was being proposed.
Qatar has come under heavy pressure over the numbers of deaths of construction workers and the medieval kafala system of tied employment for immigrant workers.
That pressure has ricocheted on against FIFA whose awarded of host rights to Qatar, in controversial circumstances in December 2010, is being examined by ethics investigator Michael Garcia.
A much-heralded statement of a package of labour reforms, issued at a press conference in Doha, had been expected to signal a major step forward.
Instead, though formally welcomed by FIFA, it provoked reactions ranging from disappointment to confusion among observers by saying that the sponsorship system for foreign workers “will be replaced with a system based on employment contracts.”.
It added: “The reforms would replace requirements that foreign workers obtain their employer’s consent with an automated system through the ministry of interior.”
Blatter and Zwanziger were due to visit Qatar later this month but FIFA said the trip had been postponed until after the World Cup to allow “for time to gain a better understanding of the measures that were presented today.”
In FIFA’s formal statement, Blatter described the announcement as “a significant step in the right direction for sustainable change in the workers’ welfare standards in Qatar.”
He added: We look forward to seeing the implementation of these concrete actions over the next months. We will continue our close cooperation with Qatari authorities as well as dialogue with all key stakeholders.”
However the contents of the statement were described as a “missed opportunity” by Amnesty International and attacked as “cosmetic reforms” by Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.
She added: “[This] fails to address the multiple violations of international labour standards found by the International Labour Organisation in March.
“The announcement was made by civil servants and the military, without a government minister present; it gives no guarantee for workers in Qatar; no time frame or process associated with the reforms has been detailed; Qatar’s notorious exit visas will remain in place, with the Interior Ministry now deciding who can leave the country.
“There is no indication on the fate of employees of government bodies who are being kept in Qatar against their will; there is no freedom of association, no minimum wage, and no effective labour compliance system.”