In a statement released today, HRW has said that Qatar’s midday summer work bans do not provide adequate protection for construction workers.
“Current heat protection regulations for the great majority of workers in Qatar only prohibit outdoor work from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the period June 15 to August 31. But climate data shows that weather conditions in Qatar outside those hours and dates frequently reach levels that can result in potentially fatal heat-related illnesses in the absence of appropriate rest.”
HRW urges Qatar to reform regulations so that actual weather conditions, rather than a fixed time and date rage, determine the hours workers are prohibited from working outdoors. HRW specifically encourages Qatar to determine these work-to-rest ratios by a best-practice standard index, such as the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT), which takes into account how a number of weather factors affect the human body. HRW adds that these regulations should also include access to shade and hydration.
HRW consulted with weather experts to evaluate the safety of Qatar’s summer work ban hours. They found that conditions can be dangerous for workers during periods that fall outside of the work ban months, particularly in May, the first half of June, and September. They also found that conditions are dangerous throughout both the day and night between mid-June and the end of August, at times not covered by the midday ban.
In 2016, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy required that World Cup workers’ rest period be determined by the Humidex index, which takes into account existing heat and humidity conditions, in addition to the summer work ban hours. But only the 12,000 World Cup workers - 1.5% of the country’s construction workforce - benefit from this mandate. The Supreme Committee has said that work was suspended outside of the officially restricted midday work hours for 150 additional hours in 2016 and 255 additional hours between January 1 and early September 2017.
Overall, little has changed since Migrant-Right.org’s 2014 campaign for Gulf states to set a standard thermal working limit. Every GCC state still uses a similar summer working ban hours template, with scant consideration for actual conditions.
HRW also called on Qatar to investigate and make public the cause of migrant worker deaths and use this data to inform public health policies. Qatar's public health officials have not responded to requests for information about the overall number and causes of migrant worker deaths since 2012, though they have told HRW that only 35 deaths occurred as the result of worksite injuries in 2016. HRW states that data from sending countries indicates the numbers are far higher.