STEPHEN HEPBURN: Trades unions help save workers’ lives

World Cup
World Cup

We love our football in the North East despite so many fans suffering as Sunderland and Newcastle flirt with relegation.

Local teams with big ambitions in lower leagues such as South Shields are doing better and in the summer it’ll be the hope we can’t stand when England play in Euro 2016.

Our love of the game is why so many supporters who after reading the national press are furious at the abuse and deaths of so many migrant workers in Qatar as that country builds up to the 2022 World Cup.

Pitches will be stained with blood when more exploited workers will have died constructing the infrastructure needed in Qatar than there will be players kicking balls.

Nothing prepared me for the horror of seeing it with my own eyes on a visit with my trade union UCATT when I saw squalid living conditions you wouldn’t keep a dog in and heard stories of poverty wages and terrible treatment.

I met one group in a dirty camp expected to live in a grimy room infested with cockroaches.

The communal toilets were disgusting and the cooking areas not much better. With no table or chairs, workers are forced to eat meals on their beds.

The death toll is put at 1,200 workers on construction sites since Qatar was given the World Cup almost six years ago. Campaigners insist the figure could reach 4,000 before the opening match.

I hoped conditions would improve so I was disappointed to read an Amnesty International report detailing the continuation of systematic exploitation by firms and bosses.

Seeing this all at first hand reinforced to me just how important it is to have a trades union representing workers.

What is happening in Qatar, where unions struggle to organise, was endured by our forefathers who united to confront unscrupulous employers and create the Labour Party to fight for working people in Parliament and on councils such as South Tyneside and Gateshead.

We’re slipping back in Britain.

Wages are falling and conditions deteriorating for too many British workers, on building sites and in other workplaces as the Tories shackle trade unions and membership falls.

The encouragement of unions in Qatar through sustained international pressure, including by football fans, will save lives if the regime in the capital Doha is forced to reform for the better.

I’ve already raised this matter in the Commons and urged the government to strip Qatar of the World Cup. I will be looking to keep up the pressure in Parliament by raising this issue again at the next opportunity.