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30 Oct 2017

Qatar announces significant labour reforms for migrant workers, technical cooperation agreement with ILO; rights groups call for follow-through on implementation

On October 24 and 25, 2017 the government of Qatar announced, via its news agency, plans to establish a minimum wage for migrant workers and a “Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund” to ensure workers are paid overdue wages. One of the statements also referred to an amendment to the law governing the country’s exit permit system. No details were provided on the details of the amendment.

On the same day, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), described as a long-standing and vocal critic of Qatar’s treatment of its majority migrant workforce, issued a statement on its website hailing “the breakthrough from the Government of Qatar to end the kafala system of modern slavery” and outlining six commitments made by the Qatari government to "dismantle the system of kafala".

The details of Qatar’s proposed reforms and technical cooperation agreement with the ILO were published the next day as part of a report to the ILO Governing Body ahead of its 8 November session, when it is due to decide whether to launch a Commission of Inquiry - the agency's highest level of sanction - into complaints of forced labour against Qatar.

The agreement sets out 5 areas for action covering wage protection, labour inspection and occupational health and safety, employment contracts, forced labour and worker voice. Of note are provisions to remove restrictions on migrant workers’ ability to change employer and exit the country, introduce a non-discriminatory minimum wage, improve measures to prevent contract substitution, establish joint committees, operationalise a timely and effective dispute resolution process for worker grievances, and allow monitoring of labour practices.

In coverage published by The Guardian, ITUC’s general secretary, Sharan Burrow “will recommend that formal complaints made against Qatar be withdrawn, meaning there will be no ILO commission of inquiry”. According to the same article, ITUC will no longer request that the World Cup be moved from Qatar. In comments to AFP and HuffPost, Burrow is quoted on FIFA’s role, saying "FIFA sat on the sidelines for more than five years. They had the power to work effectively and did nothing…FIFA becomes a beneficiary but no thanks to them."

Human rights advocacy groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Migrant-Rights.org who have been at the helm of campaigning for labour reform in Qatar and other countries in the Gulf, have responded to the agreement between ILO and Qatar with more caution. The overarching message is that Qatar’s new pledges must be accompanied by swift and informed action and translate into real improvements for migrant workers in the country.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has collated the announcements from the government of Qatar and ITUC below, as well as the ILO document, responses from human rights groups, and accompanying media analysis.

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