November 17, 2016 Stephen Russell

Unions make breakthrough in Qatar

Hard work from the global construction union federation BWI and its affiliates, including those in the UK, has made what may turn out to be a major breakthrough. Qatar’s “Supreme Committee” for the 2022 World Cup has signed a year-long memorandum of understanding with the union.

Given Qatar’s hostility towards trade unions, this deal, which will see BWI involved in inspections and monitoring, as well as sharing its considerable knowledge of good health & safety practice, carries a significance that goes beyond the 30,000 workers expected to be involved in building Qatar’s stadia and could eventually help the hundreds of thousands working on related projects.

Although the Supreme Committee has generally been much more progressive than the rest of the country’s government, which continues to deny workers basic human rights, it has failed so far to effectively implement the “Workers Welfare Standards” (WWS) that it drew up to supposedly guarantee conditions on its projects. This deal with the BWI will be a chance to turn that around. If it does, the gap in treatment between those working inside each stadium and those working right outside it will become even more obvious and – hopefully – provide further impetus for wide reaching reform.

Perhaps most significantly, BWI will “review and assess” the worker welfare committees set up under the WWS in order to provide an opportunity to raise and resolve grievances in the absence of decent legal alternatives in Qatar. This would be the first time workers have had a chance to speak openly to a union organisation in Qatar.

It’s very early days, and there’s a lot of work to be done, but this is certainly the best news we’ve had so far on the campaign.