When Fifa, in a controversial move, awarded the 2022 edition of the football world cup to Qatar, there were fears that the scorching heat would affect players’ performance. The host nation’s officials are facing the heat now, albeit of a different kind. Investigations by a British newspaper have revealed that over 40 Nepalese migrant workers have died in Qatar on account of heart ailments and mishaps at construction sites. Migrant workers, most of whom are engaged in building stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure, have alleged that they are made to work under extreme temperatures, denied payment for months and have had their passports confiscated. The mortality rate remains high because of poor sanitary conditions and lack of access to quality healthcare. The International Trade Union Confederation has warned that an estimated 4,000 migrant labourers are expected to lose their lives unless steps are taken urgently to improve working conditions in Qatar.
Qatar’s unwillingness to guarantee the safety and dignity of migrant workers, in fact, mirrors a global trend. Given their poor education, lack of resources and their inability to unionize, migrant labourers have become one of the most vulnerable communities in nations around the world. India expressed legitimate concern over the fate of its citizens who were caught in a deadly terror attack in Kenya. But its silence on Qatar — even though 82 Indian workers have reportedly died so far this year — is amazing. Incidentally, people from India and Nepal constitute the bulk of the 1.2 million migrant workforce in Qatar, and more than 700 Indian labourers have died there between 2010-12. Ironically, the migration of Indian workers to Qatar also shows that a sizeable section of India’s unorganized labour contingent continues to remain outside the realm of State welfare. Fifa, expectedly, has done little save express concern about the development. But it must shoulder the blame for allowing a nation to host an important sporting event without taking into consideration its poor record in safeguarding labour rights.