Visit in Qatar by the Nordic Football associations together with constructions trade union representatives from the Nordic countries



Visit in Qatar by the Nordic Football associations together with constructions trade union representatives from the same group of countries.

Gunde Odgaard, BAT, May 14th 2019.

  1. The political context in Qatar

Qatar is not by any means a democracy. Qatar has one sole ruler, The Emir, Al Thani is basically a dictator, and his portrait can be seen everywhere. There is no free elections, no freedom of speech, no freedom to form trade unions and so on and so forth!


For many years, there has been accusations against Qatar that they are financing terrorism like the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon and the Hamas Movement on the Gaza strip. Qatar also has close relations with Iran, which has been quite questionable for most parts of the rest of Arab world.


Especially the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar of whom the two should have a leading position in the Arab world, has been a matter of dispute between the two and other Arab countries.

This culminated in June 2017 where four countries: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates issued a blockade and a boycott of Qatar. That means that they do not trade with Qatar, goods can’t move through these countries to Qatar likewise they closed the airspace to civilian Qatari airplanes.

This was supposed to be an attempt to press the Qatari regime to close down Al Jazeera, end the relations with Iran and end their financing of various terrorists’ activities across, not only the Arab region, but also throughout the rest of the world.

The Qataris did not do any of these things that was demanded from the four countries who introduced the blockades.

According to the Swedish Embassy the Qatari regime has been co-operating with the American government to make sure that all money transfers to and from Qatar is not going into the wrong pockets, so to speak.

Therefore, the Qatari regime does not think that there is any truth in the accusations that they should finance terrorist activities. However, the blockade and the political tension goes on.

Some of the international pressure on Qatar shifted towards Saudi Arabia, after the dictator in Saudi Arabia ordered the murder of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which took place in Istanbul. A deed hardtop explain!


The special US envoy for solving this golf crisis has resigned on January 8th 2018. According to Anthony Zinni, who is the person in question, he resigned after realizing he could not help to solve the golf dispute because of the unwillingness of the regional leaders to agree to cooperate.


It immediately made the American foreign secretary go on a round trip in the region trying to continue the mediation. But properly also to tell them that there is only a certain level of dispute between them, that The US can accept.

A full-blown war for example would properly not be what the Americans want. Especially not for now where they are trying to pull out troops in many places in the world. But it also seems that the Qatari regime has a need to show the rest of the world that they are rather independent. For example, has The Emir just sent a message to the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, where he urges Venezuela to strengthen bilateral relations between Qatar and Venezuela.

Venezuela is properly one of the countries that the Americans and a large part of the rest of the world dislikes most at the moment. Engaging in closer co-operation with Maduro is not necessarily something that gives bonus points.


Just before Christmas *Qatar also pulled out of OPEC which is the Organisation of oil producing countries that try to co-operate about fixing the oil prices in the international market.

And even though Qatar produces a whole lot more gas – 28 % of all liquid gas in the world comes from Qatar – and only 6.000 barrels oil a day. This act is a significant political gesture.

The conclusion is that Qatar despite the blockade, despite being quite isolated in the Arab world, the regime still wants to play a quite independent role on the international scene. The conclusion is also that this situation with tensions in the golf region may be the new normal. It is no way certain that things will be solved or resolved which exactly was why Anthony Zinni left his post.

But besides the battle to show the world that they weren’t supporting terrorist’s types, the other battle was to show that the Qatari economy is robust that it is a good place to invest and that the Qatari regime is creating conditions that make it easier for foreign direct investments into the country.


One of the latest message in this respect is that a new law was introduced recently that gives foreign investments the right to own property, assets etc. by 100 percent in Qatar. Before you needed to have a Qatari partner, who owned part of the business. This is to show the international business community that they want to have an open economy. Before the blockade some 60% of Qatar import is estimated to come through countries who are now boycotting it. Particularly food supplies. The Qatari regime had to act fast to secure alternative supply routes through Turkey and Iran. It also moved quickly to ramp up domestic production. Even importing tens of thousands of cows to ensure milk supplies.


The newly opened deep water port called Hamad Port has enabled the country to receive much larger cargo ships and thereby also limit the effects of the embargo from the neighboring countries. Despite the embargo the economy grew 1,6 percentage point in 2017 and the rate of growth is expected to rise to 2,4 percentage point in 2018 and is estimated for 3,1 percentage points in 2019, says the IMF.

An economist from Middle East London Capital Economics also estimates that the 300.000 Qatari citizens can easily be employed in the public sector and the revenues from the vast export of liquid gas can sustain the Qatari’s for a very long time. Ultimately the Qataris can survive. They just need to pump out more gas.


Those who still claim, that sport and politics should not be mixed, has a hard case in Qatar. Sport events are clearly being used for political purposes. Even FIFA president Infantino, has suggested to have more teams playing in the 2022 World Cup. The extra matches should be played in the “blockade Countries” to lift tensions in the region. This has not been well received by the Qatari regime. In conclusion, from the highest point in the football world, sports and politics do mix quite well!


  1. Impressions from the visit, our meetings and the sites we saw.

There is no doubt that the Qatar World Cup in 2022 is a culmination of a long process where they are transforming the country from being a gas and oil producing nation to become a modern economic center for tourism, congresses, conferences and so on and so forth. The Qatari regime is perfectly aware that everything that is being build leading up to the World Cup 2022 must also have a use after the final has been played.


When we in BWI started writing and telling about the appalling conditions for migrant workers 7-8 years ago, there was absolutely no resonance in the Qatari regime whatsoever for the validity of these findings, nor was there any kind of resonance for the demands we made and the questions we asked.


Basically, they did not understand why someone from Western Europe had any kind of concerns for people who come from Nepal, Bangladesh the Philippines etc. They did not see any problems whatsoever in the Kafala system. But after the world’s focus shifted towards the working and life conditions for migrant workers in Qatar the Qatari regime has also somewhat shifted.


The ILO, with whom we spoke, says the pressure from outside, mainly from trade unions, but also that football associations and many others have been interested in this, has created such a big pressure that the regime had to act. A quite visible part of that is of course that the ILO since April 2018 have had an office in Qatar. The first ILO office in any Golf state. The ILO claim this would not have come about if there had not been created this pressure. The problem is that this ILO office is temporary until the World Cup has ended. We must therefore keep up the pressure to ensure a permanent presence of the ILO in Qatar.


Of other positive findings part of the Kafala system is now abolished.
However, it is still in place for domestic workers. Maybe the most vulnerable group of all migrant workers! But in principle Kafala is no longer formally in place for migrant workers in the construction sector.


There is also introduced a temporary minimum wage for migrant workers of 250 US$ per month. Accommodation, 3 meals every day, travel paid forth and back from the home country and a visit home every second year is also formally obligatory for the migrant workers in the construction sector!


There is put in place a complaint system where you can complain if you don’t receive what you are entitled to, both salary and other benefits so to speak. There are 256 labour inspectors put in place. The ILO is training them together with labour inspectors from other countries for example from Portugal, which to the best of this writer’s knowledge, is one of the most efficient labour inspector agencies in the European Union. The training is basically trying to provide more resources and giving them a strategic focus of where to operate, but also according to the ILO the labour inspectors did not necessarily have sufficient sanctions towards those who are violating the rules.


The Qatari regime is also setting up offices in the countries where the migrant workers come from. Here they sign an electronic contract and have the medical. The electronic contract indicates wage, insurance etc. etc.

Being electronic and signed by the individual worker it makes cheating with the contracts more difficult for those employers, who historically have done so.


There is also now a possibility for migrant workers to elect members for a joint committee with the management of their companies to discuss the wage and working conditions.


Recommendations for the future trade union activities (some may already be in place).


Joint Committees

The ILO wants to set up training for joint committee members. As trade unions, we have a clear interest in having as many of these joint committees as possible and give the representatives training. At the moment, they estimate that there is ten to twelve such ones. If there is about a million migrant construction workers there are plenty committees to elect!


The trade unions from the sending countries, that are already involved, should be involved in training their nationals for the work in the joint committees. It should be a priority and an objective to have as many joint committees as possible.


Minimum wage

The ILO is working with the Qatari regime to make the minimum wage a permanent obligation. It includes the basic wage, over time, allowances, insurance, flight forth and back and they are now trying to estimate what a minimum wage would be in relation to the work carried out and in relation to the living costs both where the migrant workers come from and the actual costs they have of living in living in Qatar.


Looking at the costs of living where they come from is not necessarily the most relevant as they are there to make money. They want to make as much as possible. However, the ILO argued that they cannot necessarily use the kind of calculation they use in other places because they don’t have anything comparable in Qatar to derive a just minimum wage from. We must from the BWI make sure that the wages reflect the living standards in Qatar as much as possible, and go into dialogue with the ILO about this.



The complaint system

In the complaint system, there is arbitration so you don’t have to go through court which makes it faster. From the BWI we must set up a system that helps migrant workers to complain and follow the complaints through the system.



The ILO was quite clear saying that the focus on migrant workers, wage and working conditions due to the Football World Cup 2022 had made a difference. And we were urged to keep up the pressure. The only way to overcome the resilience to change in Qatar is basically to keep up the pressure also after the World Cup 2022 is over and done with.


More than construction

There was also a need formulated by the ILO that the international trade union movement take the campaign further than to construction workers and therefore we will ask firstly the BWI to take close contact to other international trade union federations and ask them to contribute. It could be transport. It could also be those who organize all the security guards, hotel and restaurant staff and domestic workers. But we also met migrant workers who could tell us that even though some formalities have been changed to the better it did not necessarily have any effect on those working on the building sites. We met migrant workers who have not been paid. Who don’t know about the complaint system. Whose passport have been taken. Who have not got the promised travel back to see their families. Migrant workers who are now without a job, without money and without passport. This is still a key feature of how absurd and perverse this system works.


Manpower and payroll company’s

Especially the manpower companies are a big problem here. The manpower companies hire the migrant workers from Nepal, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India etc. and often the manpower companies are paid by the individual worker to get a job in Qatar. They can pay as much as a thousand US dollars we were told.


Recruiting offices from the Qatari government and the electronic contract may help circumvent this, but no doubt that the best is that all companies will be forced to have direct employment and there will be no use of manpower companies anywhere in Qatar.


Still serious problems

These migrant workers who we spoke to are still living in labour camps where conditions are far from brilliant! They still live with inadequate sanitary conditions. They still live eight people in one room of twelve square meters in bunk beds. Their conditions do not in any way reflect the conditions of the workers we met at the stadium in the Education City! That building we visited looked very good. It could basically have been a building site in Denmark, Norway, Sweden or Finland.
The accommodation for the workers were also good.


This building site was, according to one source we spoke to, the best in the country.

The question is that if you can make these good conditions in a handful of sites where you make stadiums, why can’t you make it in the rest? And of course they can. It is only a question of willingness. Therefore we also need to keep up the pressure.


If anyone should have any doubts whatsoever whether there is still a long way to go before wage, working- and life conditions are up to an acceptable standard for migrant workers in Qatar, one can read the article by Håvard Melnæs, a Norwegian journalist, called “The battle of Qatar”, which was published on September 13th 2018. Then you are not in doubt any longer!




Udgivet den 14. maj 2019