The Gulf state of Qatar has promised to improve conditions for laborers working on its 2022 World Cup stadiums. For the moment though, life is tough for the - mainly migrant - workforce toiling under the sun.
In Mesaieed, some 40 kilometers south of Doha, are the piles of sand that will be used for the cement for the World Cup stadiums. "Eight million tons of sand are stored here," says an engineer from the Qatar Primary Materials Company, who wants to remain nameless. He says the company has improved its production capacity ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
But a major improvement in the lives of the construction workers seems a long way off. Some changes have occurred as a result of the pressure heaped on Qatar, recently, by the international community.
"They now have limited a day's work to eight hours," our guide tells DW. "But they have also said that through overtime you can work up to 15 hours a day."
The QPMC engineer, who left his home nation due to repercussions after the Arab Spring, now lives and works in Qatar. He says that despite his tertiary education, he has to endure just as tough working conditions as everyone else. "I have a contract that goes for five years. But I won't be able to leave before then, and I can't change companies."
A common story
He says that workers are regularly not paid for each hour of overtime that they do work or they are paid late. And they are often forced to pay a high fee to get the job in the first place. The stories the engineer tells us correlate with reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
"When your visa runs out, and you have to go home, they don't pay all the money that is owed to you," says Nabin, a laborer from Nepal who lives in Doha's Industrial Area. The suburb is a 60 square kilometer area on the edge of city, cut up by 52 streets, named with just numbers. The area is home to factories, warehouses and workers often live here too.
Nurdeen, from Bangladesh, works nearby laying pipes. He currently shares a room with nine other workers.
"It's got five bunk beds, one light and no window," he says. "You don't really want to see it."
No chance of complaint
In Qatar, if the employer doesn't pay his workers on time, there is little that workers can do about it. Company personnel departments and the National Committee for Human Rights often can't do much.
"The workers don't have enough opportunities to make a complaint," explains Nicholas McGeehan, a Gulf region expert from Human Rights Watch. "The National Committee for Human Rights takes the complaint, but nothing much happens. The state has work inspectors but there are not enough of them and they can't change much."
Last November, some 600 Nepalese workers were so angry with their working conditions that they went on strike. The result: 100 of them were deported, and not even local journalists, following the story, know where the rest of them ended up. The Nepalese embassy didn't respond to our requests on the issue.
Could the World Cup change things?
McGeehan does see some improvement though, saying that the Qatar Foundation and the country's Supreme Committee (responsible for organizing the World Cup) have agreed to bans on commission payments for job seekers and drops in average wages. And, Qatar has agreed to new laws in May of last year that allow a worker to leave the country and change employers when their contract ends. Also, journalists and NGOs are now better able to approach authorities, McGeehan says.
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"We do gain access to the ministeries, and to the worker camps," McGeehan told DW. "All in all, we can do more here than in other countries in the region." In Dubai for instance, McGeehan is banned from entering the country completely.
The hope is that the attention that Qatar receives over the next years, due to the World Cup's impending arrival, will have an effect on the whole region. In many neighboring countries, conditions for workers are poor. But the countries remain out of the spotlight as they are not set to host a major world event.
The workers in Qatar slug on regardless, and in the settlements inhabited by Qatar's 1.8 million expat workers, there are no proper football pitches, by the way. Even though the country has superb sports facilities like the Aspire Academy, where clubs like Bayern Munich train, things like this are rarely provided for most of the workers.
"Qatar is depressing," says Nabin. "You can't dance, sing or drink alcohol. It is not a free country." The Nepalese worker says his only fun here these days, is curried chicken from the store around the corner.