A construction worker on a building site on May 10, 2014 in Doha, Qatar. Photograph: Getty Images.
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We need to stand up for workers' rights in Qatar and elsewhere

Too many are risking death so that the world's richest sport can hold a festival.

In just four weeks, the World Cup kicks off in Brazil. Like hundreds of millions of people the world over I couldn't be more excited; I've got Brazil vs Croatia 9pm on Thursday 12 June circled in my diary. When we get down to the business end of the tournament you can bet that someone somewhere will trot out the old Bill Shankly quote - "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

We all know what Bill meant. When your team is down to the last ten minutes and needs a goal we all know how important that can feel. You sometimes see TV cameras catching images of people who would never step inside a church clasping their hands in apparent prayer for a last minute goal. But we also know, underneath it all Bill Shankly didn't really mean that football was more significant than life. Football should never be a matter of life and death - nowhere is that truism more certain than in Qatar.

This morning in Doha, the hundreds of thousands of construction workers that live in the makeshift camps that ring the city woke up to reports that the Qatari government accepts that abuse is taking place, and have promised change. The detail of the Qatari announcement are still pretty unclear. Depending on who you believe we either have widespread reform, the end of the Kafala system and a new age of employer/employee relations to replace the old sponsorship system, or a simple rebranding of the old regime, and another missed opportunity.

Last month, I visited the worker camps in Qatar and the conditions I saw there were filthy.  The workers I met told me of exploitation, deception, and abuse, unscrupulous agents, and uncaring employers, passports seized, and freedom to go home to their families denied. That's why change is needed.

At a sometimes chaotic press conference in Doha, Qatari officials produced two things. The long awaited DLA Piper report - an audit into the accusations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others of abuse, and the much heralded reforms. The DLA Piper report was clear - and made sixty two recommendations on a variety of issues from the controversial Kafala system to contracts, wages, accommodation and health and safety. Crucially the report contains the Qatari's own figure on migrant deaths - 964 in 2012 and 2013. Including 35 from falls, 28 who committed suicide and 246 from "sudden cardiac death".

In light of the high number of heart attacks, the report calls for an independent study into the cause of these sudden deaths. In response, the Qatari's announced their reforms. Plans to replace Kafala, changes to the rules on exit visas and switching employers, promises for more and tougher inspection, new accommodation standards and harsher penalties for those caught exploiting migrant workers.

After all the build up, Amnesty International described yesterday's announcement as a missed opportunity. The DLA Piper report and its recommendations are not set to be implemented in full and the modest changes we were promised yesterday are still subject to legislative scrutiny. But nevertheless, yesterday was a small step on a very long journey. It is absolutely vital that the reforms promised are implemented quickly and fully. But FIFA must insist that more is done. The 2022 World Cup cannot be played in clear conscience unless the industrial scale exploitation of workers is gone for good

These measures represent the first round of reforms, but a lot more needs to be done for football to come anywhere close to having a clear conscience. For Labour, workers' rights - like the migrant workers in Qatar - will be a crucial part of our development policy. At its heart, development is about more than pounds and pence, it's about power. Some people have it and too many people don't.

You could find no better example of the power imbalances we seek to address than the workers like these whose desperation to work hard and get on lead them into the quicksand of forced labour. Political power, economic power and the social power of opportunity denied. Too many are risking death in Qatar so that the world's richest sport can hold a festival - truly the ugly side of the beautiful game. That's why it's compulsory that FIFA acts - they wanted the World Cup to be in Qatar and they have a responsibility.

The UK government should also act. There is a little known but nevertheless important UK DFID programme called "Work in Freedom". Using existing budgets the scheme should be extended to cover construction workers travelling to Qatar. But let's be clear - this is not just a problem in one tiny state in the Gulf. Of course we should use the extra scrutiny provided by the hosting of a world cup to push for change but we have to look wider too.

So Labour is committed to reverse this government's decision to cut funding to the ILO and we will work with our international partners like the ITUC to ensure that those who have the will to work hard, have the power to get on.

In Qatar and across the world the campaign for human dignity and fair rights for workers goes on. Fair day's work, for a fair day's pay, under fair conditions for all and a World Cup not built on the deaths of migrant workers - that's our goal.  Football fans the world over can help make that happen. It's time for everyone who loves football to stand up and speak out.

Jim Murphy is shadow international development secretary and Labour MP for East Renfrewshire

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.