Migrant workers who died in Qatar in the run up to the World Cup

‘Natural causes’ has been cited on each of their death certificates (Pictures: Amnesty International)

Sweltering in 40°C heat on ’75p wages’, the lives of migrant workers in Qatar have been thrust into the spotlight as the World Cup begins.

Amnesty International believes many of them have been exploited and overworked, with labourers often going ‘weeks’ without any days off.

Five of these men, between the ages of 32 and 40, died suddenly, according to the human rights group.

Sujan Miah, from Bangladesh, was found dead in his bed by his colleagues on September 24, 2020.

The 32-year-old had been working as a pipefitter on a project in the desert where, in the four days leading up to his death, temperatures in Qatar had exceeded 40°C.

Tul Bahadur Gharti, from Nepal, died in his sleep on May 28, 2020, after the 34-year-old worked a 10-hour construction shift in temperatures which reached 39°C.

Similarly, 34-year-old Suman Miah, from Bangladesh, died a month later – after doing a long shift in 38°C heat.

Sujan Miah, 32, from Bangladesh, was working as a pipefitter on a project in the desert (Picture: Amnesty International)
Tul Bahadur Gharti, 34, from Nepal, worked 10-hour construction shifts (Picture: Amnesty International)
Suman Miah, 34, from Bangladesh, died after a long shift in 38°C heat (Picture: Amnesty International)
Yam Bahadur Rana, 34, from Nepal, worked as a security guard (Picture: Amnesty International)

Death certificates for Sujan, Tul and Suman all recorded their cause of death as ‘acute heart failure due to natural causes’.

Yam Bahadur Rana, 34, was a security guard from Nepal who spent long hours working outside in the sun. He died on February 22, 2020.

His cause of death was documented as ‘acute cardiorespiratory failure due to natural causes’.

Manjur Kha Pathan, from Nepal, had complained his air conditioning had stopped working before he collapsed in his cabin on February 9 last year.

The 40-year-old lorry driver, who was working 12 to 13-hour shifts a day, died before an ambulance arrived.

Qatar has long been criticised for how foreigners get treated when they go over to the oil-rich country to work.

Amnesty International told Metro.co.uk about these men to remind everyone about the labourers who have ‘suffered unspeakable abuse’ in the run-up to the the World Cup.

Qatar has long been criticised for the way it treats migrant workers (Picture: Reuters)

It is impossible to know for sure how many migrants have died while preparing the nation for the World Cup, because Qatar does not publish this data.

The country’s Planning and Statistics Authority has officially recorded the deaths of 15,021 non-locals in the 10 years leading up to 2021- but this covers people of all ages, occupations and causes.

A widely quoted investigation by The Guardian claims more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died since 2010 – when Qatar won the right to host the World Cup.

But neither of these figures point to how many migrant labourers have died as a direct result of the working conditions in Qatar.

Amnesty International predicts this number could be in the hundreds.

They believe the majority of these workplace-related deaths will likely have been linked to heat stress.

But the UK branch’s chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh, said these types of deaths often get attributed to natural causes or cardiac arrest instead.

He finds this particularly suspicious given that people who get accepted into work programmes in Qatar must pass compulsory health screenings first.

Construction workers in the middle of building Qatar’s Lusail Stadium, near Doha (Picture: Getty)

Healthcare experts say it should be possible to identify the exact cause of workplace deaths in all but around 1% of cases.

But the rate of unexplained migrant worker deaths in Qatar is about 70%, according to data from several of the nation’s major labour-sending countries.

Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), responsible for organising the host country’s FIFA World Cup operations, claims it has only suffered three work-related-fatalities and 37 non-work-related deaths.

It also believes it has ‘utilised the World Cup to deliver lasting social changes workers’.

A spokesperson said: ‘Since construction began on FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 infrastructure in 2014, the SC’s commitment to ensuring the health, safety and dignity of all workers employed on our projects has remained steadfast.

‘Our efforts have resulted in significant improvements in accommodation standards, health and safety regulations, grievance mechanisms, healthcare provision, and reimbursements of illegal recruitment fees to workers.

‘Despite our commitment to our rigorous standards, it is unfortunately the case that (as elsewhere in the world) work-related injuries and deaths still occur on our projects.’

Labourers standing in front of ventilation shafts in Qatar’s new al-Bayt Stadium in 2019 (Picture: Getty)

Qatar introduced a new minimum wage last year, but several reports, including from The Guardian, suggest there are many workers still being paid less than £1 an hour.

The SC’s policies will only have applied to official World Cup sites, such as stadiums, and not necessarily all the infrastructure construction in the run-up to the tournament.

Sacha said: ‘These enhanced labour standards only apply to those working on the official sites, which is actually only about 2% of the workforce in Qatar.

‘So the kind of improvements have been limited because of a lack of effective implementation and enforcement and then limited again in terms of who they’ve even applied to at all.’

Activists believe much of the issue lies with Qatar’s kafala sponsorship system – where employers essentially have control over a worker’s immigration status.

This often includes restrictions on whether someone can change jobs or leave the country.

‘An employer is in control of the existence of that worker 24/7. It is an overall system of abuse and control,’ Sacha said.

He added: ‘We are aware of thousands of workers across all projects, so are still facing delayed or unpaid wages, facing denial of rest days, have had unsafe working conditions, have had barriers to changing jobs and very limited access to justice or access.

‘We need to make ourselves look beyond the fireworks and look beyond the razzmatazz and look beyond the shininess of the new stadium and think about the human lives that have been involved in that infrastructure.’

Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s full comment:

Since construction began on FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 infrastructure in 2014, the SC’s commitment to ensuring the health, safety and dignity of all workers employed on our projects has remained steadfast.

Our efforts have resulted in significant improvements in accommodation standards, health and safety regulations, grievance mechanisms, healthcare provision, and reimbursements of illegal recruitment fees to workers.

Evidence of progress by the organisation is publicly available here in a series of annual reports.

While the journey is on-going we are committed to delivering the legacy we promised. A legacy that improves lives and lays the foundation for fair, sustainable, and lasting labour reforms.

In line with this commitment, the SC has implemented health and safety standards that are on par with, if not better than, many construction projects in Europe and North America – a fact the global trade union

Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) recognizes and have publicly attested to here.

In 2014, the SC launched the Workers’ Welfare Standards (WWS), which are mandatory standards for contractors working on SC projects and require contractors to ensure compliance by subcontractors.

Our due diligence begins as early as the tendering stage, and since 2016, 25% of contractors have failed pre-tender inspections. Following on from a peak construction workforce of 30,000 workers, our Workers’

Welfare Standards now cover more than 150,000 workers on tournament service projects related to the World Cup and more than 40,000 hospitality workers.

Despite our commitment to our rigorous standards, it is unfortunately the case that (as elsewhere in the world) work-related injuries and deaths still occur on our projects.

Unfortunately, the SC has suffered three work-related-fatalities and 37 non-work-related deaths. From the outset, we have been transparent about work-related fatalities and non-work-related deaths on our projects, with all incidents captured in our annual reports.

Our commitment to publicly disclose non-work-related deaths goes beyond the requirements of the UK’s Health and Safety Executive Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), which the SC has adopted as its benchmark. RIDDOR defines and provides classification for how to document work-related and non-work-related incidents.

The SC investigates all non-work-related deaths and work-related fatalities in line with our Incident Investigation Procedure to identify contributory factors and establish how they could have been prevented. This process involves evidence collection and analysis and witness interviews to establish the facts of the incident.

This is standard SC procedure that goes further than what is required, where the legal responsibility to investigate the underlying causes of death in the case of non-work-related deaths lies with the relevant local authorities.

The SC has stayed true to its commitment of utilising the World Cup to deliver lasting social changes for our workers, to improve their working and living conditions.

The following is testament to the legacy we continue to build as part of this tournament. Access to remedy: The SC’s three-tier grievance mechanism is giving workers a voice and ensuring greater representation. We established the first-of-its-kind Workers’ Welfare Forums in Qatar, allowing workers to elect a representative to raise grievances on their behalf, without any fear of retaliation.

Over 113 forums have been held, covering SC and non-SC workers. Our forums have also informed the establishment of joint committees in Qatar in 2019, that are encouraging communication between employees and employers to address bring together representatives of management and facility workers into regular communication over workplace issues.

Summer working hours legislation: The SC also participated in a heat stress study, commissioned by the ILO and Ministry of Labour that resulted in a ministerial decision to extend the ban on working in open workplaces from 10:00am-3:30pm, from June 1 to September 15 annually.

This new legislation extended the ban by 6 weeks, providing greater protection from heat stress.

Hospitality sector: Our engagement with the hospitality sector has brought about notable improvements in the areas of ethical recruitment, employment conditions, accommodations and workers’ representation. Our forums have been extended to this sector. Three hotel operators have committed to reimburse QAR 163,670 to 58 hospitality workers; while others are in the process of reimbursing staff for pre-mobilisation medical expenses.

Comprehensive medical screenings: 42,629 comprehensive medical screenings have been delivered, as a preventive measure beyond baseline screenings. These screenings ensure workers are fit to work before being mobilised on site and that they receive appropriate care plans in case of any medical issues. Annual health check-ups are now compulsory for all workers, and we are in early discussions with the MoL and other partners regarding a nation-wide implementation of the SC’s comprehensive medical screening programme, particularly at the Qatar Visa Centres in the sending countries.

Heat stress mitigation: The SC has devised revolutionary cooling suits for workers as part of its heat stress mitigation efforts that ensure workers are comfortable during warmer months. We have received interest from local and international companies and pilots are in progress. Further iterations of this product will be developed to cater to different sectors and applications globally.

In parallel to stringent health and safety standards, our record for transparency goes beyond any construction project in this region, previous FIFA World Cups, and many international construction projects.

When companies fail to comply with the WWS – which is the stark reality of supply chains around the world – our mandate is to step in, demand better, and alert the authorities. We implement mandatory due diligence mechanisms to detect non-compliance and ensure strict adherence to the WWS – an incredibly challenging undertaking in an industry rife with complex supply chains and contractors – many of which conduct their business in an exemplary fashion, while others unfortunately seek to circumvent laws and exploit loopholes.

Since 2016, we have carried out more than 10,461 audits and inspections across all our sites totalling more than 83,482 hours. Additionally, we have completed over 1,845 inspections across non-construction sectors, including the hospitality sector, Host Country Operations and other related projects, amounting to more than 14,620 hours.

We also have a suite of enforcement measures at our disposal, which have resulted in the demobilisation of 69 contractors, 235 contractors placed on a watch list and a further seven have been blacklisted. We understand there is always room for improvement.

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