Qatar minister elected to head UN labor conference following World Cup scrutiny


Berlin (AP) — The labor minister of Qatar, which faced intense scrutiny over its treatment of migrant workers in the run-up to last year’s World Cup soccer tournament, was elected Monday as the president of the United Nations labor agency’s annual conference.

Asian and Pacific nations proposed Ali bin Samikh al-Marri to lead the International Labor Agency’s two-week conference in Geneva. Regional groups take turns nominating the meeting’s chair.

After Qatar was named host of the 2022 World Cup, the labor conditions in a country where over 2 million migrants work in everything from construction jobs to service industries came under a spotlight.

Rights groups said workers faced unsafe working conditions, including extreme heat that had caused deaths, as well as exploitation by employers, despite reforms instituted by Qatar.

Qatari officials say stronger regulations over work conditions have been imposed under the reforms. They have said three workers died in workplace accidents connected to the construction of new stadiums for the World Cup over the past decade, along with 37 other stadium workers who died outside the workplace during that time.

They argue that accident rates at the stadiums are comparable to others around the world.

The International Labor Conference brings together government, employer and worker delegates from the agency’s 187 member countries.

Al-Marri was elected without dissent to preside over the gathering. The head of delegates representing workers acknowledged Qatar’s reforms but also noted that after the World Cup, labor unions expressed had expressed doubts about “if there was sufficient commitment to the necessary further implementation to address the continuous plight of migrant workers.”

The head of the workers’ delegates, Catelene Passchier, said there had been “extensive conversations” in recent weeks, resulting in “a joint understanding that re-engagement and speeding-up of the reforms and their implementation are necessary” to address outstanding issues.

In light of that, she said, “the workers’ group can accept the nomination of Qatar as president of the conference.”

Al-Marri thanked delegates for their confidence and pointed to “fundamental” changes to labor protection in Qatar.

“We know that there is further work that we need to achieve, and we are committed to doing so,” he said, adding that his country had invited two global union federations to discuss “further labor protection.”

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