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Critics have accused Qatar of waiting until much of the huge building drive for the 2022 World Cup was completed before introducing important rights for the workforce, 34 of whom have died since the project began six years ago.

FIFA announced that Qatar had changed its labor laws little more than a week after a 78-page Human Rights Watch report revealed the shocking problems faced by some workers, accusing the state of failing to honor its commitments to protect migrant workers from wage abuses.

The kafala system, which ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers, will be abolished after the investigation found that it was still in action and that security guards, servers, baristas, bouncers, cleaners, management staff and construction workers were among those struggling to secure guaranteed payments.

In a statement, FIFA president Gianni Infantino “sincerely congratulated” Qatar, claiming a “major collective effort” to “bring about positive change”.

FIFA welcomed today the major steps announced by the State of Qatar in the area of workers’ rights👉 https://t.co/8qz3ib9JoYpic.twitter.com/0Lfj7jqn0D

If only such a law was a stipulation ahead of being awarded a World Cup…

too little too late. how many people already died building these stadiums?

What is the point? Or you think the people are stupid? They have nearly pretty much finished it all. The height of workers dying has passed.

“We are really pleased to see that this has materialized into concrete major progress in the area of workers’ rights,” he said, praising the new law that will give workers in the region a non-discriminatory minimum wage as a “significant step.”

There were few positive replies to the development on Twitter, which came after a long litany of media stories reporting the horrors some workers have allegedly faced since the project began.

Qatar has been dependent on the arrival of two million migrant workers, making up about 95 percent of its total labor force. 

“If only such a law was a stipulation ahead of being awarded a World Cup,” said one fan, questioning FIFA’s decision to send the tournament to Qatar in 2010.

“Too little, too late,” added another.

“How many people already died building these stadiums?”

Earlier this year, Qatar’s “special committee” of organizers claimed that 31 of the recorded deaths had been classified as “non-work related”, although a report found that Qatar rarely carries out post-mortems on dead migrant workers.

A large majority of the workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they had taken out loans to pay recruitment fees in order to confirm the work, while almost two-thirds said their money had been delayed, withheld or not paid, including accounts that said employers had used the coronavirus pandemic as a reason for the saga.

One 34-year-old engineer told the group that they had been waiting for their wages for more than a year while attempting to take legal action and borrowing money from friends in Qatar to send to their family in Nepal.

“I am starving, since I don’t even have money for food,” they said.

“How will I pay back my loans if I don’t get my salary [through the legal process]? Sometimes I think suicide is my only option.”

Some supporters referenced bribery allegations against the awarding of the tournament earlier this year, when the US Department of Justice launched a criminal indictment against three senior FIFA officials accused of receiving bribes for voting in favor of the Gulf state’s bid.

“What is the point?” one asked FIFA about their statement. “[Do] you think the people are stupid?

“They have nearly pretty much finished [the work]. The height of workers dying has passed.”

Infantino, who was cleared earlier this month by FIFA’s independent ethics committee over a potential breach of its code following a separate criminal investigation by Swiss authorities, acknowledged there was more to be done.

“There is definitely still room for further progress,” he said, pointing to the “lasting legacy” of the tournament.

“We will continue to work closely with the authorities and all stakeholders to promote a progressive agenda that should be of long-term benefit to all workers in Qatar, whether involved in the preparation of the event or not.”