Workers' Welfare – Legacy in Action
By Mahmoud Qutub, Executive Director, Workers' Welfare Department
Four years from now, Qatar will have played host to the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ tournament. Every day between now and that moment is vital for ensuring that the World Cup's first venture into the Arab world is a success. One of the most critical areas of focus are the 30,000 workers helping to build the stadiums and non-competition venues required for the matches.
We believe that we have a social and moral responsibility to the health, safety, security, and dignity of every worker on our project. This responsibility is exemplified and driven by the SC's Secretary General, H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi, who is acutely aware of the responsibility and opportunity of ensuring that the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ accelerates social, cultural and economic progress in Qatar and beyond.
As 2018 draws to a close, it is a good time to take stock of the areas where we have had the most impact, and plan for the next phase in Workers' Welfare, particularly with construction reaching its peak in many areas/stadiums.
Through our commitment to the application of our Workers' Welfare Standards, we have already improved accommodation facilities, eradicated passport retention, enhanced our health & safety practices through increased training and awareness and introduced comprehensive medical checks for all our workers.
A key highlight of our success this year was the tackling of recruitment fees – a highly complex issue impacting workers in Qatar, and millions of others around the world. Many workers are forced to pay vast sums of money to 'middle men' to secure employment abroad, driven by the hope of securing a better future for their families.
It is illegal in Qatar for workers to be asked to pay recruitment fees. The reality however, is not as simple. We know that a large percentage of workers on SC projects have paid recruitment fees in their home countries. Unable to provide any proof of this payment though, it is often impossible to ensure reimbursement by employers.
To navigate this challenge, we transferred the burden of proof from the employee to the employer. If the employer could not prove they had paid the cost of recruitment, we collaborated with them to reimburse the workers for the fees they may have paid.
The result was a commitment by our contractors to reimburse QAR 78.4 million (US$ 21.5m) to workers over the next three years. As of today, QAR 44.7m (US $12.3m) of that will be paid to 14,356 SC workers, while the remaining QAR 33.7m (US $9.3m) will go to 16,560 workers not employed on SC projects.
This is the legacy of a World Cup in action. We have used the spotlight of a mega sporting event to bring attention to a global issue impacting human rights. We have put money back in the pockets of workers that should not have been paid in the first place.
Workers are central to our reform efforts and our flagship grievance mechanism, Workers' Welfare Forums, gives workers access to a democratic platform to elect colleagues to represent their constituency groups. This platform helps amplify our workers' voice, gives us greater insight into their needs and provides them with access to remedy. We have focused on ensuring that the mechanisms we have established are independent, transparent, accessible and effective.
To date, we have over 112 forums across the programme covering over 22,000 workers (89% of the workforce) with an average voter turnout of 85%, demonstrating the confidence and trust our workers have in the system.
2018 was also a year in which we identified a revolutionary solution to enhance our heat stress plans and keep our workers comfortable whilst working in hot conditions. After many months of research, tests and pilots, the SC identified the opportunity to develop a bespoke cooling technology with a specialist partner, UK-based TechNiche. If successful, our cooling suit has the potential to revolutionise the experience of anyone working outdoors in a hot climate.
In June 2018 we deployed 3,500 cooling vests across SC sites, which showed remarkable results in reducing body temperatures. In 2019, we plan to deploy the next generation of innovation in heat management for 30,000 workers on our sites.
Many challenges remain, but we are proud of the progress delivered in a short time and will continue to build on it. It is reassuring to see that the steps we have taken are being recognised.
At the Sporting Chance Forum in Paris recently, Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation applauded the country's efforts in addressing workers' welfare issues and noted that "Qatar is becoming a model for other Gulf states."
Collaboration, partnership and transparency are the foundation on which these milestones have been achieved and with four years to go, our journey is far from over. We will continue to engage with partners and our workers to implement even better practice, enable tangible change, and improve the working lives of all concerned.