(Beirut) – FIFA should commit to using the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Legacy Fund to compensate migrant workers and their families for serious abuses related to the 2022 World Cup, Human Rights Watch said today. FIFA is holding its 73rd Congress on March 16, 2023, in Kigali, Rwanda.
New Human Rights Watch research found persistent gaps in Qatar’s labor protections, which failed to protect workers before, during, and after the 2022 World Cup. FIFA and the Qatari government should compensate migrant workers who endured abuses, as well as the families of workers who died. Ram Pukar Sahani, whose father died at a worksite in Qatar in May 2022, has not received any compensation. “My only option now is to look overseas for work or else things will become financially unmanageable for my family,” Sahani said.
“The 2022 World Cup in Qatar generated a whopping US$7.5 billion in revenue for FIFA, which has ignored the plight of migrant workers who made the tournament possible while they faced months of unpaid wages, dangerous working conditions, and unexplained deaths,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “FIFA should not squander yet another opportunity to right its wrongs and commit to channel the Legacy Fund towards victims of serious abuses.”
Ahead of the 73rd FIFA Congress, eight Global Union Federations sent a letter to FIFA noting the dire situation for workers in Qatar, including the lack of fundamental rights to associate and bargain collectively. In February, Human Rights Watch along with a coalition human rights organizations sent a joint letter to the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, urging him to use the 2022 Legacy Fund to remedy migrant workers who have been injured or the families of those who had died.
Human Rights Watch spoke to 16 migrant workers from India, Kenya, and Nepal directly or indirectly involved with the 2022 World Cup. They included migrant workers who faced abuses from their employers ahead of the November 2022 tournament, and others adversely impacted by the slowdown in work opportunities in Qatar ever since, particularly those who paid high recruitment fees for their employment. In addition, Human Rights Watch also reviewed company documents provided to workers that show the large amount of unpaid end-of-service benefits owed to them.
To deflect scrutiny from abuses, Qatar’s labor minister in November 2022 contended that the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund would address compensation to victims. However, the fund limits compensation to wage theft claims, access to the fund is rife with obstacles for workers, and it is nearly impossible for workers to apply to after they return to their home countries. It also does not address work-related injuries or deaths or even wage theft in the decade before it was established. Qatari authorities appear not to have taken any meaningful steps to expand the scope of the fund and make it accessible to all eligible victims.
A migrant worker who worked for a decade in Qatar including for a World Cup contractor, had still not received his end-of-service benefits, which he is contractually owed, even though he stopped working for the company in 2021. “I relocated my family back to my country because I could no longer afford the high cost of living [in Qatar], including my children’s education fees, and taking on more loans from friends was no longer sustainable,” he told Human Rights Watch. Still in Qatar and struggling to find alternate employment, he described his situation as “between a rock and a hard place.… Despite repeated efforts, I have struggled to get my [end-of-service benefits] even when I am in Qatar. What will happen if I leave? I am scared all doors will close then.”
Human Rights Watch obtained two documents from migrant workers entitled “Final Settlement,” which a company in Qatar provided its unpaid workers. The documents show that the company owed migrant workers tens of thousands of US dollars each, but despite repeated follow-ups, they have received only oral assurances from Qatari authorities that they will be paid.
Infantino, FIFA’s president, has previously referred to Qatar’s Ministry of Labour’s Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund, stating: “If … there is a worker who has not received due compensation in accordance with the laws of Qatar … he or his family can go to the Ministry of Labour and seek for compensation. And if you don’t get it, let us know and we will help you.”
“Infantino’s statements about compensation are an insult to the scores of migrant workers who have spent months in limbo waiting for their compensation in vain,” Page said.
The reduced demand for workers in Qatar was to be expected after the World Cup ended in December. However, many employers had recruited workers on two-year contracts instead of temporary contracts in the months before the tournament, with workers paying high, illegal recruitment fees. This tactic by employers and recruiters to fill the temporary demand for workers with longer term contracts has put many in vulnerable positions, with many companies laying off workers, especially in construction and hospitality. Many are sent back mid-contract while others are not paid their end-of-service benefits.
Human Rights Watch also reviewed a circular sent by an employer who gave their workers three choices: leave the country; wait in Qatar without wages but with accommodation and food until the company had work for them; or find alternate employment in Qatar.
One migrant worker spent close to $1,150 to cover recruitment fees to obtain a job as a cleaner in Qatar, for which she took a loan with 60 percent annual interest. She said her work had become sporadic since January, reducing her income by almost half. Even working fewer hours, she has had to leave employer-provided housing at 7:30 a.m. and return past 10 p.m. to accommodate other workers’ schedules with whom she shared the company transportation. Suffering from financial stress and anxiety, she decided to return home at her own expense 18 months before her contract ended.
Two construction workers said their company sent them back to their countries for long, unpaid leaves. “For now, I will not apply for new jobs because my company was good, but they don’t have projects now,” one worker said. He expressed cautious hope that his employer will send his end-of-service benefits even if they do not call him back to Qatar.
“FIFA’s 73rd Congress agenda includes discussion of its human rights responsibilities, including compensation,” Page said. “But it’s critically important for FIFA to take long-overdue action to compensate migrant workers who faced abuses preparing and delivering the Qatar World Cup.”