First Published: 2013-04-30

 

Players’ complaints overshadow Qatari attempts to project improved workers’ rights

 

Employment-related complaints by two international players, one of whom is barred from leaving Qatar, threaten to overshadow 2022 World Cup organizing committee’s release of charter of worker’s rights.

 

Middle East Online

By James M. Dorsey - Singapore

'Qataris think money can buy anything'

Employment-related complaints by two international players, one of whom is barred from leaving Qatar, threaten to overshadow the 2022 World Cup organizing committee’s release of a charter of worker’s rights designed to fend off criticism of labor conditions in the Gulf state.

In separate interviews French-Algerian player Zahir Belounis, who is locked into a salary dispute with Al Jaish SC, the club owned by the Qatari military, and Moroccan international Abdessalam Ouadoo, who left Qatar last November to join AS Nancy-Lorraine, complained about failure to honor their contracts and pay their salaries as well as ill treatment.

The Qatar Stars League, the country’s premier league, did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Belounis is locked into a court battle with AL Jaish to get payment of almost two years of unpaid salary. He has been barred from leaving the country in a bid to force him to settle for faction of what is owed to him. “This is a crazy story… I cannot move around freely, I cannot work anymore, I'm 33 years old ... Who wants a player who has not played for months? Frankly, my career takes a hit,” he told Jeune Afrique.

In an interview with the BBC’s World Football, a clearly angry Mr. Ouadoo, who is owed five months’ salary, denounced the alleged refusal of Qataris to honor contracts. “The Qataris showed me no respect and I can never forgive them for that. I know that money is king but you don’t treat a man like that without paying a price,” Mr. Ouadoo said, asserting that he had been “treated like a slave.”

Mr. Ouadoo said he was barred last summer from joining his club for three weeks of training in Spain. Instead, he was forced to train in the Gulf state’s excruciating summer heat when temperatures go up to 50 degrees Celsius “just to push me to forget my rights. They did everything to discourage me…. The Qataris think they can do everything because they think money can buy anything: buildings, jazz, beautiful cars and men… Human rights are not respected. Human beings are not respected. The workers are not respected. A country that does not respect all these things should not organize the World Cup 2022,” Mr. Ouadoo said.

International players union FIFPro Africa division secretary general Stephane Burckhalter, whose group reportedly is investigating Mr. Belounis’ case, said about Mr. Ouadoo’s experience: “Nothing can justify this. These practices are shocking, unacceptable and outrageous.” Added a prominent soccer consultant: “Belounis’ case is typical for Qatar: contract then falling out of favor, then pressure to leave without being paid, passport withdrawn, etc...”

Mr. Ouadoo employed the very language the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is using in a bid to persuade world soccer body FIFA to deprive Qatar of its right to host the World Cup by –re-running the December 2010 vote that awarded it to the Gulf state. The ITUC campaign follows two years of intermittent talks with Qatar with no agreement on demands that it endorse the principles of independent trade unions and collective bargaining, sensitive issues in a country in which foreign labor constitutes the vast majority of the population.

The complaints of Messrs Belounis and Ouadoo could not have come at a worse moment for Qatar. They coincided with the unveiling by Qatar’s 2022 Supreme Committee Workers’ Charter that would be binding on World Cup-related projects. The charter, a set of lofty principles, affirms the right of those working on projects “to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their well-being, health, safety and security.”

Qatar Foundation, in a statement three days before the release of the charter, said it was working on a charter of its own and was introducing sweeping measures that “can guarantee the rights of workers at all stages of the migration cycle - from the moment they are recruited and until they are repatriated to their home countries.” It said its charter and measures were “based upon a holistic and principled approach that combines Qatari Labor Law and international best practice.”

Qatari labor law that enshrines the principle of kafala or sponsorship, under which an employee is beholden to his employer and that is at the root of the restrictions on freedom of movement that Messrs Belounis and Ouadoo experienced has long been criticized by human rights groups and is one key reason why the unions have turned on the Gulf state.

In a statement the 2022 Supreme Committee said that “our commitment is to change working conditions in order to ensure a lasting legacy of improved worker welfare. We are aware that this cannot be done overnight. But the 2022 FIFA World Cup is acting as a catalyst for improvements in this regard.” The statement said monitoring and enforcement of the committee’s charter would be key once construction of stadiums and other infrastructure begins.

Up to half a million workers were likely to be recruited for projects according to a recent estimate by Qatar labor undersecretary Hussain Al Mulla. Mr. Al Mulla appeared to be cutting back radically on earlier predictions that Qatar would be importing up to a million workers. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch research note reported that Qatar was negotiating with FIFA to reduce the number of venues for the tournament from 12 as proposed in its bid to eight or nine.

Labor conditions “is a matter of utmost importance for all those involved in the organization of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar 2022. We have always acknowledged that the current state of workers’ welfare needs to be improved. From the very beginning, we have pointed to the power of football as a tremendous catalyst for tangibly improving labor conditions in Qatar and the region at large. From day one, we have been working towards this objective with much care and great dedication to ensure that this is a key legacy of our tournament,” the committee statement said.

A committee spokesperson said in an email that “the Charter is a starting point of reference. It is important to point out that progress and developments are taking place on a daily basis in Qatar. The Charter is only one aspect of a larger mosaic of change.”

The statement described the ITUC appeal to FIFA as ‘disingenuous’ and charged that “this campaign is counterproductive and not in the spirit of collaboration.” The ITUC cited earlier the fact that it had not been consulted on the Supreme Committee’s charter as one of the reasons why it was now seeking to deprive Qatar of the hosting of the World Cup.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.

 

IS bid to seize Kobane stalls amid air strikes

Six Tunisians killed in police-gunmen standoff

Iraq MPs divide over Kurds deployment to aid Kobane

Suspicious envelopes to consulates in Istanbul prompt alert

Morocco fossils: A rare and vanishing treasure

Germany offers to help Armenia forge peace with Turkey

Libya wakes up from ‘Dubai dream’ to face Somalia-like ‘failed state’

South Yemen separatists vow to intensify secession protests

Relatives of Iraq massacre victims: Blackwater guards should be killed

Ghannouchi makes it clear to Tunisia: It’s either political Islam or Daesh!

Deadly clashes erupt after army raid in northern Lebanon

200 Iraqi Kurd fighters to travel through Turkey to Kobane

Coalition strikes in Syria eliminate more than 500 jihadists in one month

Ahead of elections, new clashes remind Tunisia of need to fight terror

Saudi Arabia jails mothers for preparing sons to wage jihad

Jury finds Blackwater guards guilty of 2007 'massacre' in Iraq

Iraq Kurds approve reinforcements for Kobane

Israel classifies car crash as ‘hit and run terror attack’

Turkish woman arrested for stepping on Koran

Erdogan criticises US for airdrops on Kobane

Iraq schools provide shelter but late to open for classes

Syria air force shoots down two of three 'IS warplanes'

Egypt court rules on ‘Nasr City terror cell’

Fire from Egypt wounds two Israeli soldiers near border

By hook or by crook, settlers notch up property gains in East Jerusalem

Turkey envoy meets leader of parallel government in Libya

Israel arrests seven Palestinian fishermen off northern Gaza

Khamenei to Abadi: Iraq can beat 'Islamic State' without foreign troops

Saudi special court rules in cases of riots and terrorism

Libya army scores small victory in Benghazi

Only in Libya: Government calls for civil disobedience

Kasserine reaps bitter harvest from Tunisia revolution: Poverty and terrorism

Iraq Kurds set to vote on deployment of Peshmerga forces to Syria

Islamic State ‘share in US weapons’ embarrasses Pentagon

Alderton: Morocco unrivalled business gateway to sub-Saharan Africa

Protests over IS turn Istanbul University into war zone

Turkey eyes stricter punishment against lawbreakers at protests

For Sudan President: Promises are something and re-election is something else

Iran returns Abadi to ‘house of obedience’

From traditional military to counterinsurgency force: Syria army grows more capable

South Sudan rivals accept 'responsibility' for civil war

British drones in Iraq also used for Syria surveillance

Turkey launches new wave of wire-tapping arrests

Rise of Shiite militias challenges government authority in Iraq

Syria Kurds show impressive resistance to ‘Islamic State’ in Kobane