Earlier this year, guards from security companies in Qatar, many of which had recently been contracted to work for the FIFA 2022 World Cup, staged protests against poor wages and working conditions. They successfully pressured the government to step in and demand the companies increase salaries and improve conditions. However, the protests were highly publicized and, in the lead up to the World Cup, Qatar is keen to appear to be interested in the welfare of its workforce, 90% of which is made up of migrants.
As the BBC reports,
The preparations for one of the biggest global sporting events have seen the oil-rich Middle East nation transformed, with roads, hotels, airports and stadiums constructed to host the matches. But the preparations have been dogged with allegations that workers – often migrants from Asia or Africa – are being forced to live and die in appalling conditions.
Given international scrutiny as the host of the next World Cup, Qatar has taken pains to demonstrate better labor conditions. Last year, the government established legislative reforms that effectively abolish Qatar’s kafala or sponsorship system, allowing for employees to theoretically move freely from their initial employer if they so choose. The move was monumental for a region in which kafala is widely practiced. However, in practice, numerous persons have reported being unable to leave their jobs, being threatened by employers and not being able to access support from the Ministry of Labor.
The government claims that change takes time but a recent interview by the BBC with Malcolm Bidali, as well as Bidali’s written testimony, about his treatment by the government for speaking out about the conditions he faced as a security guard in Qatar, says otherwise.
Bidali shares that he was kept in a small, padded room – “like an asylum” – with a button to press for water or to use the bathroom. He was detained for two weeks. His crime? “Establishing and publishing false news with the intent of endangering the public system of the state.” The “false news” were accounts of working conditions he and his colleagues faced published on blogs under the pseudonym Noah. Thanks to the intervention of international human rights groups, Malcolm’s fine (USD 6900) was paid and he was able to leave Qatar.
Bidali began blogging about working in Qatar after one of his journal entries was published online and led to improved conditions almost immediately. Despite his detainment, he firmly believes in the power of online advocacy.
“I urge anyone who can, to speak up and support the fight for workers’ rights. Even simple things like retweeting and reposting really go a long way! A post or a tweet may be the difference between life and death, freedom and imprisonment.”
One thing Bidali is certain of is that the recent labor reforms in Qatar “look splendid” on paper. His treatment speaks volumes to the actual commitment of the government to better conditions for migrant workers. As Bidali puts it, “Qatar chose to detain me rather than to acknowledge and address the issues we face. That makes no sense. Why would they do that? Wouldn’t it have been better to approach me and ask me to collaborate with them?”
No one deserves to be jailed for holding companies accountable to local laws. Join Freedom United and over 90,000 supporters who have signed our petition calling on the Qatari Minister of Labor to end the forced labor of migrant workers.
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