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Qatar-living quarters

A message to Aussie soccer fans: end slavery


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By Andrew Casey

Asia/Pacific Editor for LabourStart

Thursday, 12 December 2013

ONE of Australia’s top union leaders is raising his voice against the modern day slavery he has just witnessed in Qatar.

And he is asking the Australian football community not to look the other way, ignoring this human tragedy.

“The beautiful game will be poisoned if it is built on the base of slavery in Qatar,” construction union leader, Dave Noonan, warned.

The CFMEU Construction Division National Secretary was part of a high-powered delegation of global union and NGO leaders talking to construction workers in the lead up to building the big Qatari football stadia for the World Cup.

Sharan Burrow, the former ACTU leader, invited Dave Noonan to join the International Trade Union Confederation delegation and afterwards Burrow, the General-Secretary of the ITUC, issued a strongly-worded report on the visit.

Football Australia boss told about the inhumanity in Qatar

Noonan says he was shocked by the visit and he believes there are many things Australians can and should do to protest the inhumanity he witnessed.

“Football Australia CEO, David Gallup, has already got a letter from me explaining the human rights tragedy faced by the Asian workers flown into the Gulf State,” Noonan said.

“I have told him how workers wages are being stolen – and they have no right to complain about the missing pay. I have told him about the disgraceful housing conditions these workers face. “

At this stage the CFMEU leader is waiting for a response from David Gallup.

But Dave Noonan is considering contacting that other ‘Mr Football’ in Australia, the World Game SBS football commentator Les Murray.

Les Murray has in the past stood on the same platform as the CFMEU – during refugee protests – alongside other human rights, refugee and migrant groups. During these rallies he points out that he is a Hungarian refugee, who only got to Australia thanks to the help of people smugglers.

“Our union has a strong history of standing side-by-side with migrant workers against this type of exploitation,” Noonan said.

“To us it doesn’t matter if it is 18 abused Hungarian construction workers mistreated in NSW .

“Or these Nepalese temp construction workers, across the other side of the globe, abused in Qatar.”

“Our union has a strong history of standing side-by-side with migrant workers against this type of exploitation.”

Dave Noonan, a native of Western Australia, is primarily an Aussie Rules follower but he is a keen follower of Celtic in Scotland and Spurs in the English Premier League.

“Many CFMEU members are proud immigrants and know what it is like to work hard for your families in a foreign land. Many of our members also form the solid core of the Football Federation’s fan base.

“Many of our members are active participants, and organisers, and administrators, of all levels of the round-ball game in this country.

“Our members want their union to take a stance protecting guest workers everywhere – and they don’t want their football sullied by the sweated blood of other construction workers. “

Dave Noonan said he would make sure CFMEU members know all about the Qatari crisis – and he’ll ask them to raise the issue with their local football clubs leadership.

Noonan believes global alliances of unions, football fans, human rights and NGO groups have the ability to create the leverage needed to influence the infrastructure projects for big global sporting events, not just in Qatar but also Brazil and Russia.

[FIFA boss] Sepp Blatter has felt the pressure from this global campaign condemning just this week Qatar’s working conditions, calling them ‘unacceptable’.

“FIFA is concerned for the reputation of the game, is concerned if global bodies like the UN, the ILO or the ITUC come protesting about their ethics, protesting about how companies treat the workers building FIFA facilities.

The Australian end of a global alliance can play a profound role in this campaign .

“From Australia the big construction giant Leighton has established a presence in Qatar as part of a joint venture called the Habtoor Leighton Group,” Noonan explained.

“While most of the actual construction is yet to commence it is likely that Leighton will want to bid for this lucrative work.

Supporting effective worker organising in Qatar

Currently the biggest national group of temporary migrant workers in Qatar is from Nepal, so the main Nepalese national trade union centre, GEFONT, was part of the delegation visiting the Qatari workplaces.

GEFONT has an outstanding organising reputation in its own country but is watching as many Nepalese join the massive movement of cheap labour across the globe . . . and not standing by idly.

“GEFONT has built effective networks amongst the Nepalese workers in Qatar and was able to arrange meetings with Nepalese construction gangs,” Dave Noonan said.

“They told us that everyone of them has had their passports confiscated by their employers on arrival and that few workers received the identity cards which are mandatory under the bonded labour system which governs migrant workers in Qatar.

“The failure to issue identity cards is deliberate and means that the worker is automatically illegal and therefore unable to complain about mistreatment by their employer.

“Everyone of the workers reported that they had been told on arrival in Qatar that they would be paid only a fraction of the wage which they had been contracted to receive – when they accepted the job in Nepal.

“Some of them had received no wages at all for six or seven months, and their employer simply refused to pay them. They knew that there was no way to force the employer to meet their obligations and that they would be reported as illegal and imprisoned if they complained.

“Most of them owed money to recruitment agencies back in Nepal. “

The GEFONT leadership is clear they don’t want to defame Qatar – they just want the ability to work with local Qatari groups to defend the rights of Nepali workers and all other construction workers.

Dave Noonan will be reporting to the ACTU and the CFMEU about the activities of GEFONT. I think we should find ways of supporting unions in countries such as Nepal as they supply workers to Qatar.

“We need to find new ways to help them to continue active network building amongst temporary construction workers on these massive sporting infrastructure projects.

“The construction sector in Australia and elsewhere is facing a new globalised workforce.

“Our best way forward is not to give in to any new divide and conquer tactics pitting one group against another. A victory in Qatar will be a victory in Australia,” Dave Noonan said.

Keep up with the struggle for workers rights in Qatar in the lead up to the World Cup on LabourStart Qatar.

Rerun the vote

Call on FIFA to reopen the 2022 World Cup bidding process.


Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.


Creative Commons License
We believe in the free flow of information, and content on Working Life is available to be republished online or in print under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


  1. Dan Murphy
    Thursday, 19 December, 2013 at 10:34 am · Reply

    Total disgrace, but action by concerned soccer fans and players can make a difference. The international labour movement should totally get behind this one.

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