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World Cup: Cruel saga of Nepali migrant workers

2022 Nov 28, 18:42, Kathmandu
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group B - England v Iran Photo: ANI

As the FIFA World Cup has started, Nepali workers who were involved in construction work in Qatar have recalled their experience of working in the Middle Eastern nation. He came back to Nepal earlier after facing health problems and was deemed unfit to work further.

Hari Bahadur Shrestha watched the football match between Costa Rica and Japan which was being held in Qatar, a country where he worked for 3 years as a worker immediately after it won the bid to host the latest edition of the World Cup.

He went to Qatar at the time when the world football body - FIFA had awarded the gulf nation with the title of host for the 2022 World Cup games in early 2010. 

Shrestha said, "The facilities that were promised during recruitment weren't fulfilled. The case only was applicable to almost all the companies there. I also was promised 1200 (Qatari Riyal) but while working there I was only paid 900 (Qatari Riyal). We tried to protest against it but they (the company) threatened to deport us instead."

He worked as a painter but had no safety gear for the construction of the City Center in Qatar's capital Doha. According to Shreshtha, he was just given a jumpsuit and a helmet as he had to paint the walls taking support of metal beams erected around.

Shrestha took shelter in a room with other migrant workers to save money. According to him, the company did not provide them with adequate accommodation and food facilities. He further added that while working in Qatar, he used to wake up at 3 am (Qatari time) to reach work on time and return late at around 8 pm (Qatari time). He revealed that misbehavior was a regular phenomenon at the work site.

A report "Vital Signs: Deaths of Migrants in the Gulf", made public on March 10 this year has revealed that migrant workers in the Gulf are exposed to a series of risks to their health, including heat and humidity, air pollution, overwork, and abusive working conditions, poor occupational health and safety practices, psychosocial stress and hypertension. Long hours of manual labor in searing temperatures can result in heat stress, which can lead to organ damage.

The report said that as many as 10,000 migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia lose their lives in six countries in the Gulf every year. Around half of the migrant worker deaths are not explained, which means that deaths are certified without any reference to an underlying cause of death.

The report reads, "Low-paid migrant workers in the Gulf are subjected to a range of risks to their health that place their lives in jeopardy. Working and living conditions, psychosocial stress, and lack of access to health care are among the reasons for the rising deaths." A report analyzing the numbers and causes of deaths of migrant workers in destination countries has claimed that the cause of the death is not transparent while many of those deaths could have been avoidable.

The migrant worker deaths have been classified broadly into seven categories-- cardiac arrest, heart attack, natural cause, traffic accident, suicide, workplace death, and other causes. However, the researchers claim categories are not aligned with international guidance on classification.

As many as 7,296 males and 171 female migrant workers from Nepal lost their lives in a decade between the fiscal years 2008-2009 and 2018-2019 and heart attacks and natural causes accounted for 47 percent of the total deaths. Road accidents with 20 percent of all deaths are the second highest reason for Nepali migrant workers followed by suicide (9 percent).

Reejan (name changed), a Qatar returnee Nepali migrant worker said, "In Qatar, we were only paid if we worked. If a worker gets absent for a day then it would result in a deduction of three days' wage. We weren't allowed to rest even when we were sick." 

Recalling an accident he witnessed, Reejan said, "I had seen an accident while returning from work. A high-speed vehicle had caused the accident leading to the death of one and injuring many others- with broken legs and wounds." According to him, the injured underwent treatment for their injuries and some of them were sent back to Nepal as they were deemed unfit to work. The workers were mainly assigned to work at the aluminum factory. Reejan was promised the work of carpentering but was forced to work as an aluminum worker.

The recent returnee from Qatar in his late 20s said, "The work was different than promised here, while I was preparing to go I was promised to be paid for overtime work as well but I never received it." Reejan went to Qatar in search of work in his late teens and returned in his early 20's (2015-2020). Being the only breadwinner of his family of three, he still plans to go abroad for work as the income in Nepal isn't enough to support his family.

Reejan further claimed, "Nepali have really worked hard for the development of Qatar but what the government there is doing against Nepali is not justifiable."

Reports suggest there are about 30 million migrants working in the Arab Gulf states--the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait. 80 percent of these migrant workers are employed in low-paid sectors such as construction, hospitality, and domestic work. During the pre-pandemic period, these seven countries were hosting an estimated 1.27 million Nepali migrant workers.

A report, compiled by NGOs from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines, and FairSquare Projects, a London-based migrant rights organization, revealed that low-paid migrant workers in isolated and unsanitary labor camps are often working extremely long hours in dangerous conditions to service debt from recruitment fees. They often do not receive training on occupational health and safety and cannot access healthcare.

According to the report, low-paid migrant workers in the Gulf are subjected to a combination of risks to their physical and mental health. These risks originate from the workplace, living conditions, and the environment. They vary in seriousness, and they are to varying extents under-researched and under-reported.

Since October 2017, the Qatari government has introduced several reforms aimed at improving conditions for migrant workers after Doha committed to aligning its laws and practices with international labor standards.

The reforms include setting a temporary minimum wage, introducing a law for domestic workers, setting up new dispute resolution committees, mandating the establishment of joint labor committees at companies employing more than 30 workers for collective bargaining, establishing a workers' support and insurance fund, and ending the requirement for most workers to get an exit permit through their employer to leave the country.

Qatar has a population of about 2.8 million, including 1.7 million foreign laborers, according to Amnesty International. In preparation to host the soccer championship, the first in the Middle East, Doha launched a modernization project that included expanding its main airport and public transportation systems and building stadiums and hotels.

Last year, Qatar made a policy to send home thousands of migrant workers who built the stadiums and other infrastructure for the World Cup by placing them on five months' unpaid leave so they would not be visible during the tournament. In a bid to accommodate the expected influx of players, supporters, and the media, Qatar's hotel industry has added 26,000 rooms, and it needs hordes of workers to run them. Nepal has allowed Qatar to hire Nepali workers for a temporary period in the service sector. The number of workers to be hired, however, has not been decided.


Nepali workers Qatar Air pollution Costa Rica 2022 World Cup Migrant workers organ damage Gulf Heart Attacks Nepali migrant workers Mental Health minimum wage foreign laborers World Cup
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