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Report raises ‘deep concern’ over migrant workers safety in the Gulf 

April 9, 2020 at 2:07 pm

A worker from Nepal looks out from the window of his room at a camp housing migrant workers in Doha, Qatar on 3 May 2015 [MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images]

Serious concerns have been raised over the safety of migrant construction workers in the UAE and Qatar in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. A report released today by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reveals that a majority of companies which participated in a survey of health and safety provisions are not doing enough to protect such employees.

With the Gulf region battling to contain the spread of Covid-19, the issues uncovered by the survey raise questions about the safety of migrant workers. Fourteen construction companies were questioned but only half responded. While the report found that a number of companies had undertook measures to protect workers, including Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which oversees construction for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, there were serious shortcomings.

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The living conditions of migrant workers are a major source of concern. They live in crowded compounds in often unsanitary conditions that are perfect for the spread of Covid-19. Many construction projects are said to be ongoing despite the pandemic.

Social distancing, which is seen as vital for containing the outbreak, is impossible within migrant communities. Of the companies which responded to the BHRRC survey, none had plans to increase the size of workers’ accommodation or protect them adequately on construction sites.

Another highlighted concern in the report is the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers at FIFA World Cup sites. It’s believed that the Supreme Committee advised workers to bring their own scarves for protection if there is a shortage of medical masks rather than their employers or the Qatar government providing them.

Moreover, little is being done to protect migrant workers from disproportionate economic hardship. Only four companies mentioned in the report said that they had guaranteed job security for those unable to work due to ill health, while three said that workers forced into quarantine would be entitled to their full wages.

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The situation has forced the Government of Qatar to step in, the report said. This week, Doha took steps to address the gaps, including a reduction in the number of people staying in workers’ accommodation and guaranteeing workers under quarantine their full salaries by providing loans to their employers.

Commenting on the findings, Marti Flacks, deputy director of the BHRRC said: “We are deeply concerned that many global construction companies are not acting decisively to protect their migrant workforce in the Gulf, from both the disease and economic hardship if they become infected.” He called on FIFA and the Supreme Committee to improve provisions to protect workers. “While some construction companies are taking welcome steps to protect the health and safety of workers during the crisis, many others are not, or are not being transparent about the steps they are taking, leaving workers ill-informed, anxious and unprepared.” The BHRRC official also urged companies to do more to ensure that safety is paramount in cases where construction is ongoing despite the pandemic.