Thursday, 26 September 2013

Migrant Workers in Qatar: A Matter of Life & Death


Any student of labour and trade union studies will understand the nature of the global division of labour, and of the re-occuring displacement of migrant labour as a dominant feature of this. International sports events rely heavily on this fragmented, dispossessed underclass - the 'new helots' as defined by Robin Cohen in his profound analysis of migrants as a feature of globalisation ( reprising the degraded state of the slaves of Sparta in classical antiquity.

In Sunday's Obsever Nick Cohen ( applied in a profound sense the notion of the new helot to the migrant workers toiling to build the new ground/facilities for the 2022 world cup in Qatar and the appalling conditions they face. The story is a prominent feature in today's Guardian ( and has become a major campaign of the ITUC, TUC etc.

Sadly the plight of migrant workers in Qatar is nothing new in the global race to build better, bigger stadia for international sporting events, either as a measure of hubris - as indicative of the billions spent by Putin for the winter Olympics in Sochi - or more simply to rake in vast streams of revenue from advertising, ticket sales, tourism etc.

The conditions facing workers in Qatar are particulary horrendous and as reported across the global media workers face also the challenge of overcoming particularly pernicious immigration and employment laws which effectively make a worker the property of an employer and curtail the capacity of a worker to leave the country as means to escape exploitation. The footballer Abdeslam Ouaddou appears in the video clip above describing his own ordeal of being forced to stay in the kingdom following a dispute about his contract.

It appears that other factors (the heat: may well spoil the ambitions of the Qatari royal family in hosting the games but I urge you to support the ITUC campaign ( and force the games from Qatar sending an unequivocal message that the abuse of workers for state-sponsored events will not go unchallenged.

In closing this post I am reminded of the quote from Bill Shankley about football being more important than life and death. Sadly, for far too many workers in the global economy, football, and the inordinate wealth wrapped around and within so many other sports create the conditions within which life and death become stark features of their daily lives.

In Solidarity


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Securing a Defence for Workers on the Frontline


As I write the world awaits the outcome of the Russian proposal to the US on Syrian chemical weapons as means to avoid proposed intervention in the long-running civil war. Clearly the implications of any intervention - and of the civil war itself regardless of intervention - have massive global implications and concern us all.

UN chemical weapons inspectors in Syria.
Little choice than to face hazards of work.
What we witness also in Syria is the vital role of UN workers. At the heart of the siege between the US and Russia sit the outcomes of the UN weapon inspectors. In those countries neighbouring Syria we witness the vital work of the weapon inspector's colleagues in the World Food Programme and the Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

No global conflict, disaster or civil crisis goes without the critical support of UN workers, and yet in August the UN's Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has actively sought to de-recognise those unions representing UN workers as part of a wider effort to downplay the catastrophic dangers they face.

Perversely, Ki-moon's actions coincided with the annual date when fallen UN workers are remembered. The memorial service on 19th August coincided with a meeting of the UN staff unions and Ki-moon to discuss his proposals to abandon long-standing negotiating and industrial relations practices within the UN.

So grevious are the attempts of the UN to dismantle bargaining rights and diminish health and safety protections that the ITUC is now involved:

Further background reports on the latest position can be seen here:

I have had the great privelege to work alongside UN staff when delivering training for a number of UN staff unions and have been amazed at how strong these unions have become despite the relatively weak framework of bargaining rights and employment protections they have.

Ian Richards heads the UN staff union delegation to UN headquarters and said this of Ki-moon's wilful attack on trade union rights:

“The UN has removed negotiating rights for staff on security and safety at exactly the time
when frontline staff are facing fatal threats and ever-increasing danger, particularly in Africa
and the Middle East. UN staff have become a target in the course of their work to increase
peace and security around the world and they should be guaranteed the protection their hard
work deserves.

“It is vital that the UN leads by example. The UN should set a global standard in working
towards a more peaceful and tolerant world based on promoting human rights for everyone,
everywhere. Being guilty of double standards would stain the UN’s good reputation.

“By refusing to sit down with his staff and talk things out whilst publicly advocating the virtues
of open communication and negotiation, Ban Ki-moon is not practicing the labour standards
that the UN preaches."

Please follow the ITUC link to send a message of support to the UN staff unions and add pressure to this vital campaign.

In Solidarity