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The road to reform: have things improved for Qatar’s World Cup migrant workers?

The Guardian, Qatar, 22 November 2021 - When Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup in 2010, the triumphant Gulf state unveiled plans to host the most spectacular of all World Cup tournaments and began an ambitious building plan of state-of-the-art stadiums, luxury hotels and a sparkling new metro.

Yet, over the next decade, the brutal conditions in which hundreds of thousands of migrant workers toiled in searing heat to build Qatar’s World Cup vision has been exposed, with investigations into the forced labour , debt bondage and worker death toll causing international outrage.

In an attempt to quell the mounting criticism, Qatar announced sweeping labour reforms in 2019. This included ending kafala, the system that made it illegal for migrant workers to change jobs or leave the country without their employer’s permission, effectively trapping workers who were being exploited and abused. Other reforms included the first minimum wage for migrant workers in the region and harsher penalties for companies that did not comply with the new labour laws.

When they came into force in September 2020, the reforms were met with wide acclaim. Fifa called them groundbreaking. The UN said they marked a new era. An international trade union referred to them as a gamechanger. Even human rights groups, long critical of Qatar’s record on labour rights, gave them a cautious welcome.

Yet more than 40 migrant workers who talked to the Guardian in Qatar in September and October this year say that for them, nothing much has changed.

Despite the International Labour Organisation (ILO) claiming that more than 200,000 workers have changed employers since the new laws were rolled out, the Guardian met only one worker – a young man from Kenya – who had managed to leave his job.



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