Any talk of Qatar these days simply has to include a mention or two of football – that’s soccer to well-nigh 99.99% of interested Americans. Forget the fact that Qatar’s population grew last year by an incredible 5%, or that Qatari nationals are now outnumbered by a factor of seven to one thanks to the influx of more than a million foreign workers into the country last year. That’s the power FIFA’s World Cup football competition has to galvanise any economy, even that of the world’s wealthiest country.
However, even taking away the 2022 football factor, the year the competition is to be staged in the tiny Persian Gulf state, foreign workers would still pour into Qatar. For they’re chasing a dream and hoping just a little piece of the country’s eye-watering wealth rubs on to them. If it does then family fortunes back home could very well be transformed.
With nine stadiums to be built and three expanded in order to stage the competition, the $4 billion price tag actually seems quite reasonable. However, some estimates do put the money that’ll eventually be spent on the competition at very much higher than that. But whatever the actual cost turns out to be, work is expected to peak over the next few years with another million-plus workers due to augment the current workforce, many of whom will be helping to build the stadiums. That could be good news for Qatar’s national and multinational banks in terms of personal banking and international money transfer services.
Qatar’s infrastructure spending is legendary even by Middle Eastern standards. Forget for the moment the proposed $5 billion Qatar to Bahrain causeway which has been delayed once more. According to press and media reports, the 25 mile-long project linking the two countries is under review but is still expected to be completed in time for the World Cup.
Although the majority of expatriates come from the Indian subcontinent, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and others, there are also many thousands of Westerners living and working in the country, too, attracted by the excellent salaries and lifestyle on offer. While salaries may be similar or slightly better than those paid back home, they’ve become particularly attractive because of the perks which are usually attached, and by Qatar’s zero personal tax rate. The perks and extras, like medical cover and housing and car allowances, are enough to tempt a lot of people.
While the finances of many highly educated and skilled expats may be transformed because of the opportunities offered them in Qatar, the same can’t always be said of the many low-skilled migrant workers hired for their brawn as opposed to their brains. Yet Qatari labour law governing the private sector limits working hours, requires paid annual leave, sets requirements on health and safety, and requires on-time payment of wages each month.
But, says Human Rights Watch, laws intended to protect workers are rarely enforced. Passport confiscation is customary and workers typically pay exorbitant recruitment fees, much of which end up in Qatar. Migrant workers have no right to unionize or strike, though they make up 99% of the private sector workforce. In addition, the kafala or sponsorship system ties a migrant worker’s legal residence to his or her employer, or ‘sponsor’.
Human Rights Watch adds, “Migrant workers cannot change jobs without their sponsoring employer’s consent except in exceptional cases and with Interior Ministry permission. If a worker leaves his or her employer, even if fleeing abuse, the employer can report the worker as ‘absconding’, leading to detention and deportation.
“In order to leave Qatar, migrants must obtain an exit visa from their sponsor, and some workers said sponsors denied them these visas. Reporting mechanisms and remedies are effectively unavailable to migrant workers. In addition, the labour law excludes domestic workers, almost all female, denying them basic protections such as limits to hours of work and weekly days off.”
Check out the Human Rights Watch World Report 2013 here.
This post was made possible and contributed by Bashir Abbasi. Photo credit is from: theworldofenergy.com.