Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:22 pm on 20th October 2022.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I wish to thank Alun Cairns for securing this very important debate. I know that people in Enfield, Southgate and across the country are looking forward to next month’s World cup and I am no different. I will be cheering on England and hoping that Wales do well too. I live in hope that the tournament is as successful—if not more—for the three lions as in 2018, when we reached the semi-finals and the Southgate tube station in my constituency was temporarily renamed to pay tribute to Gareth Southgate. I will be the first to lobby Transport for London for the same treatment if we bring football home in December.
Of course, this is no ordinary tournament. It cannot be business as usual for the UK Government as we prepare for the tournament next month. We cannot avert our eyes from the problems in Qatar and the controversies surrounding its bid to host the 2022 World cup. On this side of the House, we will not be attending the tournament in person. I have received invitations, as I know other colleagues have, but to be clear, we will watch the World cup but will not be going. Dozens of construction workers have been killed putting this tournament on, and it is our view that we would be doing them a huge disservice if we turned a blind eye and did not use the World cup to campaign for stronger workers’ rights internationally, especially for migrant workers.
The eyes of the world will be firmly fixed on Qatar over the next few months and that provides us all with an opportunity to shine a light on the situation in the country and across the region. It is right that Qatar has faced intense criticism from human rights groups, international trade unions and labour organisations over the treatment of migrant workers. The Guardian newspaper reported in 2021 that 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since 2010. The International Labour Organisation has said that 50 workers died and 500 were severely injured during 2020. There are also serious concerns about the kafala system, which requires workers to have the permission of their employers to change jobs, leave the country and renew residency permits allowing them to work and live in Qatar. By its nature, it gives employers substantial power and clearly leads to the exploitation of workers.
There are other issues surrounding delayed or reduced salaries, which put workers at risk of forced labour. There are barriers to obtaining justice for abuses, and the prohibition of migrant workers from trade unions. However, it is true that Qatar has made progress and we welcome the improvements that have been made on workers’ rights, including steps to dismantle the kafala system in 2020 with the introduction of new labour laws, meaning migrant workers no longer need their employer’s permission before changing jobs.
In 2021, Qatar became the first country in the Gulf to implement a minimum wage for workers, regardless of nationality or occupation. Reforms have also ensured protection from heat stress, and there have been efforts to enable the right to organise and discuss grievances with employers, but we remain concerned about the implementation of those reforms. Human rights organisations are still worried about the imbalance between employers and workers in Qatar, with reports that many migrant workers still fear lodging complaints.
Although steps have been taken to dismantle the kafala system, workers continue to face challenges in changing jobs, with 100,000 requests to change jobs between October 2020 and October 2021 rejected. It is clear that while progress has been made, the work cannot stop here. Indeed, as the tournament nears and there is less construction work, the wellbeing of workers in other areas of the economy is also of concern, including the hospitality and service industries, such as those working in hotels, security workers, cleaners, drivers and cooks.
More widely, we know that migrant workers have faced exploitation in Qatar, and there is real fear that the situation will worsen significantly as the world and the World cup move on. Progress cannot stop when the spotlight of the World cup ends in December. Next month’s World cup means that the LGBTQ+ fans in my constituency and across England and Wales face the grim prospect of putting up with the tournament being played in a country where their sexuality is criminalised.