Qatar Alters Laws as Workers Die on Pre-World Cup Projects

Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, said it will amend labor laws after the death of dozens of immigrant workers on construction projects drew a storm of criticism from human rights and labor groups.

The government plans to increase penalties for employers who confiscate the passports of migrant workers to 50,000 riyals ($13,700) from 10,000 riyals, and stiffen penalties for failures to pay wages on time or provide adequate information, Interior Ministry officials told a press conference in Doha today.

The ministry also said it will scrap the current system of exit permits, which requires employers’ consent for employees to leave the country. It will change a system of sponsorship, called Kafala, under which migrants can only work for the company that sponsored their entry into Qatar. Under the new rules, employers will no longer be financially responsible for their employees.

Qatar, the world’s richest country, plans to invest more than $200 billion before hosting the World Cup, including new stadiums and transport links. Labor standards have come under scrutiny as the projects get under way. Most manual work in the world’s richest country is carried out by immigrants from poorer nations such as Nepal and India.

‘Appalling’ Abuses

Under the Kafala system, workers must obtain their employers approval to change jobs, open a bank account or leave the country.

Today’s announcement doesn’t mean that Qatar has abolished the system, Nicholas McGreehan, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in an e-mail. “It seems they have decided simply to refer to it as something else.”

The U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported in September that 44 Nepalese workers had died in Qatar between June 4 and Aug. 8 amid “appalling labor abuses.” The Nepali Embassy later said 53 Nepalis had died.

Amnesty International said in a November report that workers in Qatar often weren’t paid wages, were subject to “harsh and dangerous” working conditions and “shocking standards of accommodation.” The group documented the cases of dozens of workers who were prevented from leaving the country for many months by their employers.

Soccer’s ruling body will pay close attention after the Gulf state said it will clamp down on violations, FIFA executive Theo Zwanziger said in February.

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