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WC host Qatar sees ‘incredible progress’ in labour rights: union head

The International Trade Union Confederation chief said Wednesday that Qatar has made a dramatic turnaround in its treatment of foreign workers to become a country fit to host World Cup 2022.

Ahead of the global tournament’s November 20 start, Qatar has faced an onslaught of criticism for its record of its treatment of foreign workers. 

But Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC, which claims to represent 200 million workers worldwide and led efforts to encourage Qatar to improve conditions for migrant workers, said the energy-rich Gulf state had made “incredible progress”.

“We said in 2015 there should be no World Cup without workers’ rights,” she told AFP. “I can honestly say now that my advice to fans is go to the World Cup, have fun.”

Fans must do their own “due diligence”, Burrow said, who will step down as the confederation leader next month.

“It’s going to be a great environment but keep your eyes open,” she said. “There will be human rights monitors. And if you see issues of exploitation or concern, report them.” 

While Qatar still has to make progress on implementing the new laws, Burrow said claims that more than 6,000 workers had died on construction sites over the past decade were “a myth”.

Qatar has faced international scrutiny over its treatment of migrant workers, who make up the majority of its 2.8-million population, as well as rights for women and the LGBTQ community.

“If you walked around this city in 2012 or 2013, and you saw no scaffolding, no harnesses, no protective equipment, then it was obvious that injuries and deaths were going to be massive,” said Burrow.

She said there had been a large number of unaccounted deaths before the reforms.

‘Valuable friends’

But since ITUC launched “out of frustration” an International Labour Organisation complaint against Qatar in 2016, there had been a reversal with reform laws, improved salaries and living conditions.

In less than a decade, the ITUC and the Qatari government had gone from “worst enemies” to “valuable friends”.

Burrow hailed Qatar’s law regulating working in extreme heat as one of the best in the world.

Qatar had been a major battleground in the ITUC’s campaign against modern slavery, but Burrow said Doha had performed a “10-year turnaround” and that the reforms should be copied by other Gulf states.

Several French cities have banned the showing of World Cup matches on big screens in protest at Qatar’s rights record.

Rights groups have also stepped up condemnation of the Gulf state. 

“It’s a little distressing when we see that, because these are good people wanting to take a stand against human rights abuse,” said Burrow. “But for whatever reason, they’re not hearing the story of change, (of) incredible progress.”

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