Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
It is hardly surprising that Qatari authorities have responded to the international outcry over migrant worker conditions in the country with a pledge to improve. But having seen first-hand the horrors endured by many of those helping the country build for the 2022 football World Cup, it is difficult to imagine the woolly commitments will have resulted in much relief.
I spent five days seeing for myself the shocking conditions being endured by migrant workers during a fact-finding mission organised by the construction workers’ union UCATT. To say I was horrified by some of the things I witnessed and stories I heard would be an understatement.
Workers living in squalid, cramped and cockroach-infested conditions 12 to a room with a solid plank for a bed and fetid communal toilets. People being paid slave wages to toil in conditions in which their work colleagues have literally been killed around them.
And what is worse is that the majority of the 1.2 million migrant workers suffering through this living nightmare have actually been exploited to pay for this life, bound by huge interest rates which make walking away impossible under the controversial ‘kafala’ sponsorship scheme. To make matters worse, ruthless employment agencies charge around £1,000 to secure these jobs promising good wages. Many migrants find their contracts are changed on arrival and most I spoke to earn between £35 and £45 per week.
They cannot seek a different job without permission. They need permission to leave the country. They are effectively bonded labourers. They are trapped; desperately trying to repay astronomical interest rates on loans they took to pay the agencies who promised a life of milk and honey. Some 1,200 men have been killed on construction sites in Qatar since the World Cup was awarded. The death toll will be around 4,000 by the time the event starts if nothing is done.
It is the ‘kafala’ programme which the Qatari government has now stated that it will replace. But actions speak louder than words and, if you dig a little deeper, there is not a great deal happening on the ground to reassure the workers that change is around the corner. Most are prevented from escaping the hell they have found themselves because the exit visa scheme makes a migrant worker a slave to their single employer, who has rights over the workers and can prevent them leaving.
The Qatari government has said it proposed to alter these rules to make it less difficult for the migrants to return home. But this is not something the employers who have been conditioned to convince themselves the system is acceptable are likely to take lying down. And that is where the Qatari government needs to demonstrate some true leadership and take the issue by the scruff of the neck with a genuine determination to fix it. They need to do that not just for the World Cup workers, but for the many other long-suffering labourers who cannot escape their employers’ clutches.
Qatari ministers must come out and say exactly what they plan to do, rather than putting on a public relations show in a bid to soften the international media as they have repeatedly tried to do so far. The World Cup: one of the glitziest and most glamorous sporting events on the planet. Yet behind Qatar 2022 will lie death, misery and exploitation so cruel it doesn’t bear thinking about.
With another 500,000 migrant workers due to arrive before the tournament begins, the international community has a responsibility to think about it – and to force change.
Connor Devine writes that whilst Brexit might be a car crash, we can't just side with an institution responsible for enforcing austerity.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now argues that after years of colonial domination and dodgy trade deals, the UK must make amends and support Zimbabwe in this uncertain time.
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny