In May 2017, Jagadesh Kumar, a 54-year-old Indian carpenter, who was working on a stadium being built for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar died of a heart attack. According to his relatives, he became unconscious half an hour after leaving the stadium. The tournament’s organisers claimed his death was not caused by his working conditions. However, the country for long has come under the scanner for labour abuses meted out to migrant workers from countries like India, Bangladesh, etc. who have been working to build infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
As per a report by the Supreme Committee for Legacy and Delivery in 2016, the World Cup’s organising body, three Indians employed at World Cup sites had died of heart attacks in the last 18 months.
Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup in December 2010. Since 2011, 1718 Indian workers have died in the country, an RTI reply given by the Embassy of India in Doha has revealed. And 160 Indian workers have perished in the first seven months of 2017 alone.
Data provided by the embassy also reveals that between 2004 and 2017, 3154 Indian workers died in Qatar, with more than 200 workers dying each year from 2007 onwards.
Yet, the abuse faced by migrant workers in Qatar is well documented. In May 2015, in its report titled “Promising Little, Delivering Less”, Amnesty International had heavily criticised the Qatar government’s response to address the widespread exploitation of migrant workers who had come to build the infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in the country. The report had said that there were instances of migrant workers not being paid their due wages or being paid late, having their passports confiscated by their employers, working in hazardous conditions, forbidden from joining or working in trade unions, among other instances of exploitation.
In another report, Amnesty International again exposed ‘the abuse of world cup workers’. “Migrant workers building Khalifa International Stadium in Doha for the 2022 World Cup have suffered systematic abuses, in some cases forced labour,” Amnesty had said. This is the same stadium where Jagadesh Kumar had worked.
As recently as May 2017, the organisation again reiterated how migrant workers at World Cup construction sites continue to suffer abuse and exploitation.
According to a Reuters report in May 2017, the Qatari government had denied that workers were being exploited.
The Indian government seems to be quite aware of the alleged abuse that labourers face in Qatar. In May 2015, Sushma Swaraj, the Minister of External Affairs had tweeted that since 2007 there had been 109 deaths in site accidents. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his official visit to Qatar in June 2016 had raised the issue of the abuse of migrant workers. Qatar had reassured that labour reforms would improve the conditions of migrant workers from India.
However, the fact that more than 270 workers died every year from 2014 to 2016 and that 160 have already died in the first seven months of 2017, perhaps points out that some really stringent measures must be taken by both the Indian and Qatari government to improve the lives of such vulnerable workers in Qatar. Else, Indian workers will continue to die in huge numbers on Qatari soil.