Nine Qatar World Cup workers die in 2019
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Nine labourers on World Cup 2022 projects died in the past year, Qatari organisers said Wednesday, stressing that none of the deaths were a result of accidents at tournament projects.
All but one of the dead who suffered health issues had yet to undergo a new comprehensive medical screening intended to detect underlying risks, the supreme committee organising the tournament said.
The checks, along with newly launched electronic medical records and mental health supervision for workers, were introduced following criticism by human rights groups of Qatar's past labour practices.
"With each death, regardless of what NGOs may think, we've always taken a lot of attention and concern," the committee's executive director for worker welfare, Mahmoud Qutub, told AFP.
"The comprehensive medical screening, as a preventative measure, has probably been one of the most effective programmes we have launched."
In 2018, by contrast, one worker died as a result of a workplace accident after falling from a height at the Al-Janoub stadium. Ten non-work related deaths were reported in the same period.
Most of Qatar's 2.75 million residents, 90 percent of whom are foreigners, are from poor developing countries working on projects linked to the 2022 World Cup. Of that number only around 26,000 are directly employed on committee-run projects.
Three workers were killed and 11 injured in a bus crash in November in what was the single deadliest incident in 2019, according to a committee welfare report.
It added a Turkish carpenter died of heart failure in February 2019, a Nepalese 27-year-old died of cardio-respiratory failure in June, while a 20 year-old Nepalese man killed himself in October 2019 -- five days after arriving in Qatar.
A study published by Cardiology Journal in July probed the relationship between the cardiovascular linked deaths of more than 1,300 Nepali workers in Qatar between 2009 and 2017 and heatstroke.
In October 2019 an Indian electrician, 54, died of heart failure while the following month a 35-year-old Nepali died of tuberculosis and in December a 21-year-old Indian worker was found dead in his lodgings. An investigation into the cause of his death is ongoing.
- 'It's going to improve' -
"We could sit back and say 'people die -- they didn't die on the site, it's not our responsibility'. But we wanted to be as transparent as possible," Qutub said.
"We have taken a lot of measures to become more preventative, and this is more important than a cure. How can we protect the workers being exposed to an environment that may exacerbate a pre-existing condition."
The committee has also intensified efforts to identify and reimburse workers wrongly charged recruitment fees, Qutub added.
Under the committee's rules, contractors are responsible for covering recruitment costs. But in many cases, the charges -- sometimes as much as $1,000 -- are passed on to recruits, many of whom are from India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
"The reimbursement scheme is pure negotiation," said Qutub. "Workers are always going to tell you they paid, we've turned it over and the burden of proof is now on the contractors to show evidence they've hired ethically."
Projects run by the organising committee are acknowledged by human rights groups to generally offer their workers better protection and rights than schemes not under the committee's supervision.
Democratically elected Workers' Welfare Forums now represent more than 23,000 of the committee's roughly 26,000 employees following 76 elections with an average turnout of 81 percent.
Qutub said that "a lot of improvements need to be made" to the Gulf nation's Wage Protection Scheme, introduced in 2015 to detect non-payment of salaries.
Human Rights Watch revealed last month that one unnamed Qatari employer, which was involved in World Cup projects, failed to pay managers for five months and labourers for two months. They have all now been reimbursed after the organisers and the government intervened.
"Enhancements are being made," Qutub said. "I'm very confident it's going to improve."
© 2020 AFP