THE Lord Provost is facing demands to turn down an all-expenses trip to Qatar amid complaints about the nation’s human rights record.
Cllr Donald Wilson’s invitation to world’s wealthiest country per capita became engulfed in controversy when union bosses condemned Qatar’s “unfair, cruel and harmful” traditions and urged the civic leader to refuse the request.
Unison leaders said systematic “abuses” of workers in the Middle Eastern nation would make it impossible for the provost to accept the travel package from Qatar Airlines.
Councillors supported the provost’s trip but insisted that he deliver a letter containing union criticisms to Qatari authorities.
They include concerns about Qatar’s treatment of migrant labourers helping to build football stadia for the 2022 World Cup following reports more than 1000 workers have died since construction began.
Chris Goodsell, international officer for Unison City of Edinburgh branch, said: “Much has been written about the rights and wrongs of holding the 2022 world cup in Qatar – the greatest wrong in my mind is the cost in human life.
“Most of the construction workers for the stadium projects in Qatar are migrant workers as are 94 per cent of the population of Qatar.These workers mostly originating from Nepal and India are amongst the most poorly treated in the country.”
He said workers often lived in packed rooms and were likely to work at least ten hours a day in temperatures that can exceed 50C.
Cases of workers being denied access to free drinking water have also been reported, he added.
But the Lord Provost insisted the trip would promote Edinburgh – one of his main duties – and could spark investment from Qatari businesses.
He said: “By opening the channels of communication with Qatar, I hope to use the visit to Edinburgh’s advantage and highlight many of the key events on the city’s calendar including the summer and winter festivals.”
“The trip will also help to develop the council’s economic strategy which specifically targets Doha as one of six priority cities in which to develop partnership links.”
He added: “In the last year Edinburgh has attracted major foreign direct investments totalling £161 million, creating 928 jobs and boosting the city’s economy.
“With such clear benefits to the city, it is my obvious duty as Lord Provost to sell Edinburgh in this kind of way.”
Details of the trip are still to be finalised and it is not yet known who the Lord Provost will meet there. Qatar Airways will cover the full cost of the journey with no expense to be met by the taxpayer.