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14 Apr 2020

NGO coalition calls on Gulf states to ensure protection of migrant workers during Covid-19 response

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In April 2020, a coalition of 16 NGOs and trade unions co-signed letters sent to the Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, calling on them to take steps to "ensure that migrant workers receive adequate protection from Covid-19".

The letters make 5 asks of the Gulf governments:

  • Ensure equal access to testing and medical assistance for all workers, and to ensure that worker are not deterred from seeking assistance from fear of detention of deportation.
  • Ensure sanctions imposed for violating quarantines do not include detention.
  • Where possible, to seek input from national and sectoral trade unions; ensure that workers who are prevented from working continue to receive their wages and have an adequate standard of living. This includes monitoring businesses to ensure working conditions are safe and that businesses are implementing guidelines and requirements.
  • Carry out public awareness-raising campaigns to ensure that workers, including domestic workers, do not face discrimination or stigma as a result of the pandemic.
  • Ensure domestic workers are provided with access to timely and adequate healthcare, sick pay and protective equipment.

The letter follows reports of a spike in cases of Covid-19 among migrant workers to the Gulf, largely attributed to poor and cramped living conditions, and a lack of adequate protective equipment. A similar letter was signed and sent to the Qatar Government last month.

The Bahrain embassy provided a response which can be read in Arabic below. The response provided an overview of the healthcare measures they are taking, efforts to stabilize the labour market, awareness-raising programme and human rights considerations the government is undertaking in response to the pandemic. The government implemented protections agains unemployment for all workers, irrespective of nationality. All companies by decree are now required to undertake a range of measures to protect workers, including: to provide masks, to reduce staff, to conduct coronavirus testing, to encourage homebased work, to clean workers’ accommodation, to provide temporary housing for migrant workers to reduce density at labour accommodations.

In addition, the Emirati Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation acknowledged receipt of the letter, and stated that a response is forthcoming. The Qatari government also issued a response; it can be read here.