To all of you out there begrudgingly adapting to the real world, waking up in your parents’ basement every morning and thinking, “Man, I need to get my shit together,” I have just one thing to say: it could be worse.
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding allegations that 14 high-ranking officials for FIFA (the International Federation of Soccer) are guilty of corruption and bribery. While unrelated, these new headlines have stirred a conversation that started in 2013 about the horrendous scale of abuse that migrant workers have been subject to in the 2022 World Cup host country, Qatar.
In order to accommodate the needs of the global tournament, it was said that nine new stadiums and several more hotels would have to be constructed in the Arab country. This created a pressing need for unskilled labor, which led to the influx of migrant workers from nearby nations, in this case Nepal. In 2013, Amnesty International released a scathing report describing the numerous offenses against the migrant workers in Qatar, most of whom were busy working on the aforementioned stadiums and hotels.
Did FIFA hire these workers? No. Are they actively consenting to their mistreatment by turning a blind eye so that they can have their facilities built cheaply and quickly? Absolutely. I love that I can always look to FIFA to completely dismantle any remaining faith I have left in mankind.
A Mile in Their Shoes
At the root of this injustice is the labor rights system—or lack there of—in place in Qatar. Migrant workers in the nation, and several others in the Middle East, are subject to the kafala system, which has received a lot of criticism for exploiting workers.
Under the kafala system, migrant workers are required to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, to represent the worker and handle the legality of them being there. In this particular case, Amnesty International found that these sponsors in Qatar were abusing their roles and denying fundamental rights to their employees.
Such abuses included preventing workers from leaving the country without the sponsor’s permission, misleading the workers by telling them they would be paid higher salaries than they actually were, withholding pay for months at a time and confiscating workers’ passports so that they were undocumented, among others.
Amnesty even reported witnessing, “11 men signing papers before government officials, falsely claiming they had received all payments and benefits to allow them to leave the country,” according to CNN.
What’s more is that an estimated 94 percent of all workers in Qatar are migrants, meaning that an overwhelming majority of the labor in the nation is being conducted by workers who are being horribly mistreated and possibly never even paid. And conveniently enough for the employers of these migrants, there is a law in place that states only Qatari workers are allowed to form or join unions which prevents the Nepalese migrants from protecting themselves from exploitation.
You’d think that FIFA would be quick to react to this given that they’re a multi-billion dollar organization who, on their own site, claims to spend $2.5 million a day on “worldwide football development” and “organizing international competitions.” They don’t have to physically pay the Nepalese migrants, but couldn’t they at least provide some form of relief or threaten Qatar with sanctions? And why hasn’t the government of Nepal stepped in?
Be grateful that you live in a country that actually believes in the wellness of its labor force. The Department of Labor has a vast array of laws in place specifically to protect workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Act enforces hazard-free workplaces through inspections and investigations. The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act specifically prescribes wage protections, housing and transportation safety standards and contract requirements for migrant and seasonal workers.
The list goes on, but the point is labor protection laws can be fundamental in establishing a sturdy economy. Happy workers are more prone to producing higher quality work at a more efficient pace, thus increasing both the rates of production and consumption in a nation. This boosts GDP and, in the long run, makes the nation better off.
It goes to show how important it is to know your rights as an employee and to have someone in office who is representing your best interests. Yes, I’m sure there are those of you reading this and saying to yourself, “I need a job before I can even think about my boss respecting my rights.” While that’s valid, take some solace in the fact that once you do get that job, your rights will be protected. Unless you get an unpaid internship…then all bets are off.
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