An NRK crew were taken into custody in the early hours of 22 November for trespassing on private property and filming without a permit. The authorities arrested the crew after responding to a complaint made by the owner of the private property on which the crew had illegally accessed. The crew were released without charge early on 23 November after completing the necessary legal procedures. The Norwegian embassy and NRK executives were updated on the situation as it progressed.
As in almost every country, trespassing is against Qatari law, which the crew members were fully aware of before entering the property. The crew were given access to film wherever they wanted in Qatar. They were provided with all the filming permits they had requested prior to their arrival and were offered meetings with senior government and third-party officials. These freedoms, however, do not override the rule of law, which the crew knowingly and wilfully violated. As a result of these violations, the crew were temporarily detained.
Qatar’s track record on media freedom speaks for itself. Qatar welcomes hundreds of international journalists and NGOs every year to report freely in the country. No journalist has ever been detained when Qatar’s laws have been respected.
Your report (‘We have fallen into a trap’: Qatar’s World Cup dream is a nightmare for hotel staff, 18 November) fails to acknowledge the progress Qatar has made to improve living and working standards for foreign workers, including those in the hospitality sector.
The impact of Qatar’s reforms is best highlighted through its numbers: over 240,000 workers have successfully changed jobs since barriers were removed in September 2020; more than 400,000 have directly benefited from the new minimum wage; improvements to the wage protection system now protect 96% of eligible workers from wage abuse; and hundreds of thousands of workers have left Qatar and returned without permission from their employer since exit permits were abolished
Enforcement too has been strengthened to safeguard workers and prosecute companies that violate the law. Again, the numbers tell the story: 35,280 accommodation and worksite inspections were carried out in the first half of 2021, and 13,724 penalties issued to violating companies.
Systemic reform is a long-term process, and shifting the behaviour of every company takes time. Through its actions, the government is sending a strong message to companies that violations will not be tolerated.
Not a single story from among the thousands of people who have benefited from Qatar’s labour reforms is highlighted in the article. Qatar has never shied away from acknowledging that its labour system is still a work in progress, but we expect reporting to present the facts as they stand. Going forward, Qatar remains firmly committed to cooperation, transparency and continuous improvement of its labour system.
Media attache to the UK
Government Communications Office of Qatar
Following the publication of an opinion piece by elected officials and NGOs denouncing the working conditions on construction sites of the future football World Cup, Sheikh Thamer Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Deputy Director of the Government Communications Office of the State of Qatar, considers these criticisms to be unfounded or poorly-founded. Above all, according to him, the authors are ignoring the labour reforms in his country.
In response to an article published in the French newspaper “Le Monde”, the Deputy Director of the Government Communications Office of the State of Qatar added that in just under 500 days, the 2022 World Cup will begin in Qatar. It will be the first time that football’s flagship event will be hosted by an Arab country and in the Middle East, and thus an opportunity to dispel recurring stereotypes and misconceptions about the region. It will also be an opportunity to promote cultural exchanges and bring a message of hope and unity to our turbulent region.
While for millions of people the World Cup in Qatar will be a cause for celebration, at a time when the world emerges from the clutches of the Covid-19 pandemic, this vision is not universally accepted. For some, Qatar is not a worthy host, with criticism centred around the important issue of workers’ rights.
He said that it was therefore not surprising to see an article published in Le Monde on 26 June criticising working conditions in Qatar Under the title: “World Cup 2022: ‘We should not have to count the deaths caused by the construction of a World Cup’”, which criticised work conditions in the State of Qatar.
Sheikh Thamer Bin Hamad Al-Thani emphasised that the article is full of inaccuracies and distortions, refusing to acknowledge the positive impact of labour reforms in Qatar for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and their families.
“Three work-related deaths on construction sites”
Sheikh Thamer Bin Hamad Al-Thani emphasised that Qatar has never shied away from fact-based criticism and have repeatedly acknowledged that there are areas left to improve. Labour reforms in Qatar are set for the long-term and the result of an unwavering desire for change that existed long before the World Cup was awarded.
He said that we remain resolute in the face of criticism and when an article misleads readers and ignores the realities on the ground, it is our responsibility to respond with facts. If the authors of the op-ed really wanted to understand the truth, a quick online search would reveal the many opportunities our government has seized to respond to the Guardian’s inaccurate claims that 6,500 workers from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have died since 2011 working on the construction sites of the stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.
He also emphasised that this accusation is totally false. There are currently 1.4 million foreign nationals living in Qatar and only 20% of them are employed on construction sites. The remaining 80% include teachers, doctors, accountants, bankers and professionals working in offices and shops. Less than 10% of all deaths in the last seven years have involved people employed in the construction sector, with only three deaths related to work on World Cup sites. The Guardian article paints a stereotypical representation of the professional occupations of expatriates in our country and ignores these critical points.
“Qatar has adopted a collaborative approach”
Deputy Director of the Government Communications Office of the State of Qatar said that Qatar makes every effort to prevent the loss of life in our country as evidenced by the fact that Qatar has one of the lowest Covid-19 mortality rates in the world. The mortality rate of the expatriate population in Qatar has always been within the expected range given the size and demographics of the population. Over the past decade, this figure has steadily decreased due to the health and safety programmes we have put in place.
He said that the authors of the article published in Le Monde make no mention of this fact, and no reference to the many laws and enforcement measures put in place by Qatar to prevent exploitation by certain companies. Contrary to their claims, passport confiscation is now sanctioned with a heavy fine and imprisonment for repeated offenders, while working hours during the hottest summer months have been adjusted. Infringing companies have been shut down, and new courts have been created to speed up workers’ access to justice.
He noted that as in all countries, the labour system in Qatar is not perfect and that we are still working hard to achieve the ambitious standards we have set. However, progress is being made. To take the necessary steps, Qatar has adopted a collaborative approach and has partnered with many international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), trade unions and NGOs, to successfully carry out its reforms.
“Illegal activities will not be tolerated”
He said that the ILO, for example, established its first regional project office in Qatar in 2018. Thanks to its input and support, Qatar has established a set of reforms including the removal of barriers to job change for workers, the introduction of a non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first of its kind in the region, a free health service, and new health and safety standards on housing and work sites. Qatar has also introduced a stronger legal system to protect workers from abusive employers and recruiters.
He added: “For these reforms, and the many others introduced by Qatar, to be effective, companies must also be held accountable for their actions. With new laws and stricter enforcement measures in place, we are on the path to winning the battle against those companies that thought they could bypass the law. Our government is sending a clear message: illegal activities will not be tolerated.
“Qatar continues to pursue its reform agenda”
In the opinion piece, Sheikh Thamer Bin Hamad Al-Thani emphasised that the partnerships established over the past decade with the ILO and other groups will continue long after the World Cup is over. The task of reforms has not been easy, and more challenges lie ahead. But we are ready to meet them and we hope that our perseverance will inspire other countries in the region to do the same. Qatar’s objective has always been for the 2022 World Cup to create a positive legacy for our country and the region. In addition to the initiatives related to sustainability, healthy lifestyles, education and economic cooperation, labour reform is a major component of this legacy.
He called on all those interested in workers’ rights, including those working in politics and football, to learn more about the steps Qatar is taking to reform its labour laws, and how these changes are bringing tangible benefits to the people who live and work here. Despite the malicious criticism, Qatar continues undaunted in pursuing its reform agenda and will leave a legacy for millions to enjoy.
The article published by The Times on 4 June 2021, which makes serious and baseless claims about Qatar, is predicated on misleading assertions, factual inaccuracies, and bias.
Other media outlets were shown the same falsified information but declined to publish it after determining that it had no factual basis.
Despite Qatar engaging with The Times on these issues, they chose to publish falsehoods, in an apparent abandonment of their journalistic responsibilities.
The author of the article, Andrew Norfolk, has a well-documented history of promoting Islamophobic sentiment and this article is another milestone in that effort. The UK press regulator IPSO previously ruled that he had ‘distorted’ reports about Muslims and the newspaper has also been challenged by a parliamentary committee over Norfolk’s Islamophobic articles. It is concerning that in such polarized times a journalist with such a track record is allowed free reign to publish in the Times.
As has been publicly recognized, Qatar has laws and systems in place to combat and prevent the financing of terrorism and has been recognized as a leader with respect to these efforts. Along with these safeguards, Qatar has championed some of the strictest laws and regulatory framework to combat money laundering. Qatar is absolutely resolute in these comprehensive efforts to ensure that terrorism is not funded anywhere. To that end, Qatar will continue to work with the UK and other international partners to fight global terrorism, undeterred by those who wish to divide us.
In an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, Sheikh Thamer bin Hamad Al Thani, Deputy Director for Media Affairs of the Government Communications Office, confirmed that calls to boycott the 2022 World Cup in Qatar were based on misleading media reports, adding that those calling for a boycott ignored the progress the State of Qatar has made in reforming its labour law and promoting migrant workers’ rights. He said that it was good to see that in recent weeks, many football associations, NGOs and fan groups have realised that a boycott is not a constructive outcome, explaining that Qatar fully supports footballers and football associations who use their platform to promote human rights. Their criticism of the 2022 World Cup, however, is misplaced, and that Qatar has made tangible progress on labour reforms and has shown its commitment to continue the process in cooperation with its international partners.
During the interview, Sheikh Thamer bin Hamad Al Thani outlined how media reports claiming that 6,500 workers have died while working on World Cup infrastructure are both misleading and “a far cry from reality”. This figure, first reported by the Guardian, includes all deaths over the past ten years of residents in Qatar from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal. However, contrary to what the reports claim, not all of these people were working on construction sites.
“Expatriates from these countries also include students, the elderly, and workers employed in offices, retail shops, schools, and hospitals. Qatar has over 1.4 million expatriates from these countries. Only 20% of them are employed as workers in the construction sector, which accounts for less than 10% of all deaths between 2014 and 2019.”
During the interview, Sheikh Thamer bin Hamad Al Thani said that the most significant development has been the dismantling of the “Kafala” system, with workers no longer required to obtain an exit permit to leave the country and able to change jobs as they wish. He noted that in March 2021, Qatar implemented a mandatory minimum wage, the first of its kind in the Middle East, providing additional financial security for every worker in Qatar and their families abroad.
On the health and safety front, the Deputy Director for Media Affairs of the Government Communications Office said that “the State of Qatar has raised the standards. Outdoor work is banned during the hottest hours of the day in the summer and new technology has been introduced to keep workers cool when they are on site. Modern accommodation has been built across the country for workers, and the scope of competences of labour inspectors has been extended to monitor working conditions and conditions of accommodation”. He noted that the last quarter of 2020 saw more than 7,000 sentences pronounced, ranging from minor offences to more serious offences that carried heavy fines and prison sentences. He explained that Qatar is constantly reviewing its laws to improve the conditions and rights of workers, while ensuring that the labour market is strengthened.
Commenting on cooperating with international organisations, Sheikh Thamer bin Hamad Al Thani said: “We have extended our agreement with the UN’s labour body, the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, which in 2018 opened an office in Qatar to support our labour reform programme.”
Speaking on the exploitation of recruitment agencies of migrant workers, the Deputy Director for Media Affairs of the Government Communications Office emphasised the protection of migrant workers from exploitation even before their arrival in Qatar. He noted that Qatar has opened visa centres in the countries of origin of many workers, where workers can sign their contracts and undergo medical examinations prior to their departure, without having to repeat the process upon arrival in Qatar. All recruitment and related costs are borne by the employer.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, our government has made funds available to companies for them to continue paying the salaries and rents of all workers. The State of Qatar also has a system to ensure that salaries are paid in full and on time. This system requires companies in Qatar to open bank accounts for their employees and transfer their salaries electronically. Companies that violate this system are liable to a year’s imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 riyals, which is multiplied for each violation. If they are not paid, workers may also file a complaint against their employer. These complaints are investigated by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs and, if an amicable solution cannot be found, the worker may take the case to a special disputes court, which will seek to resolve the problem within three weeks”.
Gender equality and female empowerment are central to Qatar’s success and vision. Qatar is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights at home and abroad.
The Human Rights Watch report inaccurately portrays Qatar’s laws, policies and practices related to women. The accounts mentioned in the report are not aligned with our constitution, laws or policies. The government will investigate these cases and prosecute anyone who has broken the law.
In Qatar, women hold prominent roles in all aspects of life, including economic and political decision making. Qatar leads the region by nearly every gender equality indicator. This includes the highest labour force participation rate for women, equal pay in the government sector, and the highest percentage of women enrolled in university programmes.
Education is the basis for equal opportunity and development. Qatar has invested heavily to ensure all women have access to quality education and opportunities in all sectors, especially STEM industries. Women hold some of the most influential and highest-paid jobs in Qatar. They also hold business leadership positions across multiple sectors. Around 20 percent of business records in Qatar are registered by Qatari businesswomen – an increase from 1,400 business records in 2015 to nearly 4,000 in 2020.
Enshrined in Qatar’s Constitution is a prohibition on discrimination against women. The government continues to enforce, introduce, and expand policies that provide women with freedom and agency to make their own decisions. There is zero tolerance in Qatar for gender-based violence or domestic abuse.
As a government, we will continue to work together with human rights organizations, civil society, legislators and individuals to empower women in Qatar and achieve progress for the wider community.