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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - World Cup labour on agenda

A migrant labourer prepares steel for a floor on a construction site in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in 2013.
A migrant labourer prepares steel for a floor on a construction site in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in 2013. AFP

World Cup labour on agenda

Amid reports of hundreds of workplace deaths at World Cup construction sites, Qatar invited Cambodia on Saturday to discuss implementing a long-signed agreement to send labourers there ahead of the tournament in 2022.

The issue was discussed during a meeting between Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Ouch Borith and Mohamed Bin Abdulla Al-Rumaihi, Qatar’s assistant minister for foreign affairs.

At the meeting, it was agreed that Foreign Minister Hor Namhong will make an official visit to Qatar this year to discuss implementing the deal. While there, he will also sign a number of other bilateral agreements, “including a memorandum of understanding on political consultations, a deal on higher education cooperation, an economic and trade cooperation agreement, and an investment protection pact”, Borith said.

Speaking yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the labour agreement still needs to be “studied carefully”.

According to Kuong, the deal has not yet been implemented because “both countries have not been operating agencies to send workers there and to deal with safety issues”.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour did not respond to requests for comment.

Hordes of migrant labourers have moved to Qatar as the country prepares to host the World Cup in seven years. But the preparations have been marred by reports of verbal, physical and sexual abuse of migrant workers.

Qatar uses the kafala (sponsorship) system, which ties migrant workers to their employers, making them unable to change jobs or leave the country without permission.

Hundreds of fatalities of migrants from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and elsewhere have been reported since preparations began. They have been widely attributed to the abusive conditions, which include working long hours in the boiling heat.

In a statement last week, Human Rights Watch urged the Qatari authorities to implement proposed labour reforms to “protect migrant workers from serious human rights abuses”.

Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labour program, told the Post that the deal was a “huge concern”.

“Qatar know that they really need a lot of labour to build the stadiums,” he said. “But there are human rights violations, labour rights violations, and violation of women.”

He added that CLEC would be “happy to help make a strong legal framework” before workers were sent there.

Qatar is just the latest in a string of countries with poor human rights records, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to which Cambodia may send workers.

The government is also looking to begin sending domestic workers to Malaysia after the scheme was cancelled in 2011 following reports of abuse.

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