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GOVT SITS ON QATAR WORLD CUP JOBS

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MBABANE – This year is the FIFA Soccer World Cup – the global football showpiece.

It will be held in the State of Qatar and emaSwati could have been part of this historic event through being employed by companies contacted to build infrastructure, such as stadiums. However, the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini sat on an agreement with Qatar for the employment of emaSwati to provide manpower in the Middle East country.

A report published by Forbes on May 29, 2022, states that more than two million foreign workers, primarily from India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, are employed in Qatar. Nearly half of them reportedly work on construction projects, many related to the World Cup. These jobs, as per the Forbes article, offer migrants greater economic opportunity than they have in their home countries and allow them to send money back to their families.

Remittances to South Asia, two-thirds of which come from the Gulf, total more than US$150 billion (about E2.5 trillion) annually, Forbes reported.
An Amnesty International report also states that men and women, mostly from Africa and Asia, are the ones building the stadiums, roads, metro; and they will be providing security for the football matches, transporting fans in taxis to the games, greeting them in hotels and serving them in restaurants as the tournament edges closer.

Unemployment

With the unemployment rate in Eswatini expected to reach 26 per cent by the end of 2022, according to trading economics global macro models and analysts, the ministries of labour and social security and foreign affairs and international cooperation have let down the unemployed citizens, who could have gotten the opportunity to be employed and also work in the State of Qatar. According to a document seen by Eswatini News, in 2012 Eswatini and the State of Qatar signed and sealed an agreement whereby Eswatini would identify people who would be employed by different companies in Qatar who had received tenders to construct world class stadiums for the World Cup.

The agreement was signed two years after Qatar was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosting rights. Unlike other countries where citizens used recruitment agents to be employed in Qatar for World Cup-related projects, the agreement required the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to be the one handling the employment of emaSwati in the Middles East country. “The Ministry of Labour of the State of Qatar shall present to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security of the Kingdom of Swaziland (Eswatini), the recruitment applications from employers in the State of Qatar for the employment of Swazi (emaSwati) manpower. The Ministry of Labour and Social Security of the Kingdom of Swaziland shall endeavour to meet such applications within means and resources available to it,” reads part of the agreement.

It goes on to state that if the employer in Qatar wished to recruit and employ manpower from Eswatini with special qualifications, that employer would specify such qualifications in the application to the Ministry of Labour of the State of Qatar. “The Qatari employer, either himself or by authorising a representative from his staff or through a recruitment office authorised by the Ministry of Labour, shall follow up and complete all the procedures required for the selection of workers and their travel from the Kingdom of Swaziland to the State of Qatar,” states the agreement.

Awarded

The State of Qatar’s national team has never won the World Cup since 1971 but the football governing body (FIFA) awarded them the right to host the soccer showpiece which would be held this year. The agreement further stipulates that the emaSwati who would be picked for employment through government would have free accommodation and some other benefits as they would be in a foreign land. Part of the agreement states that the ministry of labour and social security of the Kingdom of Swaziland (Eswatini), could take necessary measures to facilitate the medical examination procedures, obtaining passports and permission of travel for the workers desiring to work in the State of Qatar as well as provide such workers with information on working conditions, expenses and living standards in Qatar.

It further reads; “the government of the State of Qatar may take procedures to repatriate any number of Eswatini workers on the expiry of their contracts of employment. It may also take the same procedures before the expiry of the duration of the contracts provided when the needs of employment comes to an end, provided that in this latter case the wages of the workers and other rights accruing to them under their contracts of employment concluded with them or under the Law of Labour of the State of Qatar, to be paid to them.”

Agreement

The agreement continues to state that the government of the State of Qatar may take procedures to repatriate any number of Eswatini workers if their presence in the State of Qatar becomes contrary to the public interest or the national security of the State. This shall be without prejudice to the rights accruing to the workers under the contracts of employment or the Law of Labour of the State of Qatar. The contract agreement further states that the employer shall bear all travel expenses of workers from the Kingdom of Eswatini to the work site in the State of Qatar, when they first join the work of the employer and shall also bear their return expenses from Qatar at the end of their employment. The employer shall also bear the workers two-way travel expenses during the leave periods. Such expenses shall not cover the cost of passport issuance or payment of any deposits.

Part two of the agreement stipulates that the employer is exempted from the expenses of the worker returning home in the following cases: If the worker resigns before the end of the employment contract or if he commited a mistake that necessitates dismissal from work without warning and without payment of the end of service gratuity in accordance with Qatar Labour Laws. Another interesting part of the agreement reads; “the individual employment contract shall include the details of the employer’s obligations concerning the worker’s accommodation and its type, or the payment of accommodation allowance and that of medical treatment.” After the signing of the agreement, the Ministries of Labour and Social Security and Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation were expected to implement and activate what was stipulated in the agreement from 2012.

Recruited

It has been reliably gathered that no citizen of Eswatini had been recruited under this agreement from 2012 to today. Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Makhosini Mndawe was called and he did not pick up and thereafter a WhatsApp questionnaire was sent to him but he did not respond at the time of compiling this report. The PS had been asked to shed some light as to why this agreement was not implemented so that the unemployed emaSwati could benefit. A questionnaire was then sent to the Minister of Labour and Social Security, Phila Buthelezi, who said he was not aware of such an agreement but promised he would follow it up. Worth noting is that the same matter had been raised by members of Parliament during the portfolio committee meetings of the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, where the line ministers promised to follow up on the matter of this agreement. Minister of Foreign affairs and International Cooperation Thuli Dladla said, she was also following up on the matter. Eswatini News sent a questionnaire to the minister this week concerning the agreement the country signed with the State of Qatar. The minister was asked if she was aware of the agreement between the two States.

Activated

She was also asked why the agreement was not activated and implemented whereas unemployed emaSwati could have gotten job opportunities in Qatar. “I have been engaging with Qatar on job opportunities even outside the World Cup. On my way to Serbia I had a discussion with our office in Qatar to help identify job opportunities. I also had discussion with other African employees working in Qatar on how they were able to secure jobs in Qatar. They told me that they went through agencies in their countries who secured them Jobs. They also explained the benefits and the conducive working environment,” the minister pointed out.

Meanwhile, Minister Dladla also said she had engaged the new Ambassador of Qatar a week ago on the same issue and he promised to make a follow up.“I so wish we had an independent agency here at home to help identify job opportunities.  It would be quick. I have engaged other countries as well as Canada, USA, and Asia and in the Middle East for both skilled and skilled workers. Truck drivers, for instance, are the worst hit. English teachers who cannot be absorbed locally. Medical practioners.  You name them,” elaborated the minister. The minister also went on to reveal that other African states grabbed the opportunity with both hands after signing the same agreement in 2012.“They get 700 US Dollars (about E11 900) per month and also get free accommodation with other benefits those people from other African countries who have taken advantage of the same agreement,’’ the minister clarified.

Deprived

Another government official who preferred to remain anonymous said there were other opportunities like this one which emaSwati have been deprived of after the King went out of his way secure them for his people in other countries. Furthermore, he called upon government officials to serve the people of Eswatini unselfishly. “This is a result of people who have been entrusted by the King to serve the people but only to find that particular person is not taking his or her job seriously while people are suffering out there, because of joblessness.It is this reason of unemployment that has propelled enmity among the people of Eswatini.” said the government official yesterday.

Ndzingeni Member of Parliament Lutfo Dlamini once raised the matter in Parliament during the tabling of the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs performance report and asked why Eswatini did not send emaSwati to work in the World Cup in Qatar yet the country signed an agreement in 2012 to create such opportunities. “Imagine the opportunities for our youth which they could have got through this agreement. In our constituencies we have thousands of young people who are even graduates but are unemployed due to the tough economic times,” he said in Parliament.

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