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Construction workers in Qatar, including Indian migrants, at risk from intense heat

There are around 630,000 expatriate Indians in Qatar, many of whom are blue collar workers in that country’s construction sector.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2017 14:36 IST
HT Correspondent
FILE PHOTO: Migrant workers walk at Labor City, Qatar, January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Migrant workers walk at Labor City, Qatar, January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo(REUTERS)

Construction workers in Qatar, including thousands of Indian migrants, are at risk from working in intense heat and humid conditions in the country, a report by the Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

Although rules prohibit outdoor work between 11.30am and 3pm from June 15 to August 31, the New York-based rights group said weather conditions outside these timings can also cause life-threatening heat-related illnesses.

“Enforcing appropriate restrictions on outdoor work and regularly investigating and publicizing information about worker deaths is essential to protect the health and lives of construction workers in Qatar,” said Middle East director at Human Rights Watch Sarah Leah Whitson.

About 95% of the labour in Qatar comprises migrant workers. Of these, 40% are involved in construction work, the HRW said.

There are around 630,000 expatriate Indians in Qatar, many of whom are blue collar workers in that country’s construction sector.

The Qatar government told CNN that the country constantly reviews its labour policies to ensure migrant workers have the “necessary on-site protections”. Qatar is the first Gulf nation to impose restrictions on working hours during summer, director of the government communications office Sheik Saif Al Thani said.

“In addition to issuing harsh financial penalties,” Thani said, adding “Qatar is also the only country in the Gulf that shuts down companies that are found to be operating in violation of the ban.”

Indian workers’ deaths

In August, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj discussed the issue of Indian workers’ welfare in the gas-rich Gulf nation with Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in New Delhi.

An Indian carpenter working at the Qatar World Cup stadium died of a heart attack in May this year. The tournament’s organisers said his death was not due to working conditions, Live mint reported.

Before that, three Indians employed on World Cup sites died of heart attacks, according to a 2016 report by Qatar’s World Cup organising body, the Supreme Committee for Legacy and Delivery.

Qatar, a country with a negligible football background or infrastructure, was a controversial winner of the right to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup, which will be held in November and December to minimise the impact of the desert state’s harsh climate.

Labour ‘violations’

Qatar had refused to allow scores of migrants from countries, including India, Nepal and Bangladesh, to return home earlier in March. Activists and trade unions said it violated the labour reforms to improve workers’ rights. A law making it easier for migrants to change jobs and leave the country -- where many of them have been recruited to build football stadiums ahead of the 2022 Fifa World Cup -- came into effect in December 2016.

The International Labour Organization had given Doha until November this year to implement the reforms or potentially face an investigation into the forced labour of migrants in the lead up to hosting the World Cup.