World cup workers’ rights

No world cup without workers’ rights

While the eyes of the world are on Brazil for this year’s World Cup, Prospect’s conference was already looking ahead to Qatar in 2022, with a fringe meeting called “No world cup without workers’ rights”.

Delegates heard from Jim Murphy MP, the shadow international development secretary, who described the decision to award Qatar the world cup as ‘peculiar and eccentric’ but said he visited Qatar ‘to see and to talk to the workers myself.’

“I went to two worker camps unannounced, late at night. What struck me was the scale of these camps and the fear among the workers at the idea of talking to me, or being caught talking to me,” Murphy said.

He came back from his trip with even graver concerns about the ‘kafala system’ where migrant workers are tied to their sponsor and employer.

“It is, undoubtedly, modern day slavery,” concluded Murphy, who met a man who had fled the civil war in Syria to work in Qatar but now wished he had stayed because he had a better life at home.

Another guest speaker was ex-professional player, Tony Higgins, of the global footballers’ union Fifpro. He highlighted the ‘nonsensical’ decision to expect footballers to play in 50-degree heat.

As well as health and safety concerns, Higgins dashed perceptions of the stereotypical millionaire footballer. Only 10 per cent of the world’s footballers are well paid and outside of Europe many lack basic employment rights.

“Qatar was a poor decision to begin with… But if you wish to host a world cup, you have to treat players and workers with respect,” Higgins said.

Stephen Russell of the TUC’s international department gave a presentation on their campaign to exert pressure on the Qatari authorities, Fifa, and their corporate sponsors.

He contrasted the good construction record at London Olympics with the current situation in Qatar, where “our main construction unions visited and saw some horrifying things in the workplace and in the accommodation.”

Russell said the media was already playing a key role in helping to highlight the abuses and exploitation of workers in Qatar.

The plan was “to make the games toxic so that corporate interests are afraid to touch it. Perseverance is key. We must not run out of steam. We must keep the media interested and the pressure on for as long as we possibly can.”