Soccer-Qatar to step up labour inspections during World Cup - Union

FILE PHOTO: Migrant labourers work at a construction site at the Aspire Zone in Doha, Qatar, March 26, 2016. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon/File Photo

DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar will intensify labour inspections during the soccer World Cup including extra health and safety checks to protect workers in the Gulf Arab state from exploitation, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said on Wednesday.

Rights groups and labour unions have warned that hospitality, transport and security workers are especially vulnerable during the month-long tournament, the first held in a Middle Eastern nation.

"During the World Cup, the Ministry of Labour will implement a dedicated labour inspection campaign, which includes increased health and safety checks," the ITUC said in a statement.

"A directive on working time to protect workers from unscrupulous employers will also be issued," it said following a meeting in Doha on Tuesday with labour ministry officials, union representatives and the International Labour Organization.

Qatar's labour ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Doha has come under scrutiny and criticism from human rights groups over its treatment of migrant workers in the run-up to the World Cup next month.

It has introduced reforms that include protections against non-payment of wages, a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 riyals ($275) and allowing workers to change employers more easily.

Qatar's labour law restricts workers to a maximum of 60 hours per week, including overtime which must be paid at a 25% bonus beyond regular salary. Workers are entitled to one day off per week.

Still, pressure on companies to deliver during the tournament, when 1.2 million people are due to visit Qatar, can intensify opportunities for exploitation, said Ruwan Subasinghe, Legal Director of International Transport Workers Federation.

"That there's going to be a targeted campaign sends a message to employers that just because thousands of people are here, they can't... get away with certain things," Subasinghe said, citing pressure to work overtime as an example.

Qatar, where migrant workers and other foreigners make up the majority of the 2.8 million population, is hiring thousands of temporary workers to augment its workforce during the event.

Mustafa Qadri, who heads labour rights consultancy Equidem, warned that inspections may not protect workers against unscrupulous recruiters who commonly charge illegal hefty upfront fees which workers spend years repaying.

He also voiced concern about potential incidents of unpaid wages, abusive conditions and discrimination.

"With tens of thousands of workers coming into the country (Qatar) just doesn't have the capacity to monitor all of that. So the risk is really high," Qadri said.

(Reporting by Andrew Mills, editing by Ed Osmond)

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