MEP writes to Taoiseach about Human Rights in Saudi Arabia & Qatar

Socialist Party MEP has written to Taoiseach Enda Kenny about his incredible praise for brutal dictatorships in his trade mission to the Middle East. The full text of the letter, which sets out some of the reality of workers’, women’s and human rights in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is below.

Dear Taoiseach,

I have closely followed your trade mission to the Middle East. I find the lengths you went to praise brutal dictatorships in the region quite incredible. In what world can one describe the Saudi Arabian regime as having “leadership in terms of moderation”in terms of human rights and their desire for peace in the Middle East? It is not long ago that Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarchy gave military backing to the dictatorial regime in Bahrain, which is guilty of the mass murder of peaceful protestors fighting for basic democratic rights. They are also funding and arming right-wing reactionary forces currently fighting in Syria.

Now in Qatar, you continue to praise brutal dictators and your comments about the conditions of those building the stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup are shocking. You are quoted as saying that your “assumption is that those who work internationally on such projects would have proper working conditions and proper facilities and I expect that to be the way.” I am extremely curious as to what this “assumption” is based upon.

The reality of working conditions has been widely covered in the international press. To quote one journalist, Nick Cohen, “The world’s finest footballers will be running over the bones of the faceless men who died that they might play.” That was in reference to the awful working conditions resulting in one worker a day being killed on the job. If nothing is done to change these conditions, an estimated 4,000 workers will be killed before the first game is played in the World Cup.

The plight of migrant workers in Qatar is clearly set out in Amnesty International’s report ‘Treat Us like We Are Human’ (November 2013). These workers, who are building these prestigious stadiums for the World Cup, are exploited from the moment they are forced to pay money to recruitment agencies in Nepal, India, yhe Philippines and other Asian and African countries. Upon arrival in Qatar their contracts are often torn up and they are paid as little as US$400 a month.

You may be aware that FIFA bosses and football managers are considering having the World Cup moved to the winter so their players will not have to compete in blistering heat which can reach 50°C in the summer. However, the workers building the stadiums are expected to work 12-13 hours a day in that heat without any air conditioning. The workers have very little rights and are essentially owned by their employer, who has to sign an exit visa for them to leave the country and often holds their passports.

It has been reported that you also held a meeting with executives from Qatar Airways in the hope of encouraging the airline to establish a direct route to Dublin. I wonder did this include their CEO Akbar Al Baker and if they passed on the advice he recently explained to Arabian Business:

“If you did not have unions you wouldn’t have this jobless problem in the western world… It is caused by unions making companies and institutions uncompetitive and bringing them to a position of not being efficient. If you go and ask the politicians in most of the countries in the western world they would love to have the system we have: where the workers have rights through the law but they do not have rights through striking and undermining successful institutions that provide jobs to their knees.”

At this meeting with the executives of Qatar Airways did you raise any concerns about the treatment of the mostly migrant women who make up the cabin crew? It has been widely reported in the international press how these workers are treated. They are expected to sign away their right to get married for their first 5 years of employment. Even after that they have to get permission to marry and becoming pregnant is punishable by being fired. The cabin crew are also forced to live under a curfew on company accommodation with security cameras watching everything they do. They face “spot checks” on their accommodation with workers being sacked if they have alcohol, tobacco or pork products. Like the workers in stadiums you “assumed” had good conditions, they are only able to leave the country if they authorise exit permits. At the very least, did you even insist that any Qatar Airways workers who would fly to Ireland would not work in these slave-like conditions?

A survey carried out by the Qatar National Research Fund of low income workers found that 90% have had their passports held by their employers, 56% did not have a government health card, essential to access public hospitals, 21% “sometimes, rarely or never” received their salary on time and 20% got a different salary than had been promised.

These issues have recently been debated in the European Parliament, which passed a resolution on 21 November 2013 stressing its concern:

“about the situation of migrant workers in Qatar, including long working hours, hazardous working conditions, going unpaid for months, having their passports confiscated, being forced to live in overcrowded camps, being denied the right to form unions, and having no access to free drinking water in extreme heat”

Many times in the media you, Minister Richard Bruton TD and other members of the delegation have been asked about the human rights record of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. From the responses given it would seem that these issues were not raised in any meaningful way. The impression is given that you consider that the issues of human rights are separate from those of trade. This is in gross contrast to the EU legal commitment to Policy Coherence for Development.

Your government has many times referred to supporting the values of democracy and human rights internationally. If that is anything more than rhetoric, you would apply these principles in your trade policies and vocally demand an end to gross violations of human rights and ratification and implementation of the International Labour Organisation core standards.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Murphy MEP