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by The Guardian, ITUC’s general secretary, Sharan Burrow “will recommend that formal complaints made against Qatar be withdrawn, meaning there will be no ILO commission of inquiry”.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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Article
6 September 2018

Proposed insurance fund will protect workers' dues: Minister

Author: Gulf Times

The most important function of the Workers' Support and Insurance Fund is to pay the dues of any worker who is stranded because the employer cannot pay the sum due to bankruptcy... the Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs Dr Issa bin Saad al-Jafali al-Nuaimi has stressed. “At the same time, the fund will establish playgrounds and entertainment facilities for workers in specified areas,” he said on Thursday, referring to the draft law issued by the Cabinet on Wednesday on the establishment of the fund to support workers in the country... Dr al-Nuaimi explained that the fund is complementary to the bundle of legislations issued by Qatar to protect the rights of workers. Among the benefits of the fund is that if the Labour Disputes Settlement Committee issues its decision on the eligibility of a worker in his complaint filed against the company/employer, and the latter is unable to pay the worker’s dues because of his financial incapacity or bankruptcy of the company, the fund shall pay the worker's dues and secure his departure from the country. The fund will then collect, from the employer, the amount it has paid. The money will be added to the fund's resources... [T]he Minister added that the resources of the fund would consist of the amount allocated by the State as well as proceeds from the fund's investments...

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Article
5 September 2018

Qatar lifts controversial exit visa system for most workers

Author: Katie Paul, Reuters

Qatar amended its residency laws on Tuesday to allow most foreign workers to leave the country without exit permits from their employers, a provision which labor rights groups have long said should be abolished. Doha is keen to show it is tackling allegations of worker exploitation as it prepares to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, which it has presented as a showcase of its progress and development... Employers will still be allowed to require up to five percent of their workforce to request permission to leave, after submitting their names to the government “with justifications based on the nature of the work”... The ILO hailed the move as a “significant step” for gas-rich Qatar, which committed last year to introducing sweeping labor reforms, including changes to the exit visa system... Qatar’s system still requires the country’s 1.6 million mainly Asian foreign workers to obtain their employers’ consent before changing jobs, which the groups say leaves workers open to abuse. The government’s other pledged reforms include introduction of a minimum wage and a grievance procedure for workers.

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Article
30 April 2018

Qatar to scrap controversial exit system for workers: experts

Author: David Harding, Yahoo! Sports

Qatar could agree a deal within a fortnight to abolish its controversial exit visa system which requires workers to obtain their employers' permission to leave the country... The possibility of a landmark deal came as the International Labour Organization (ILO) opened an office in Doha, part of an agreement under which the United Nations agency will oversee wholesale labour reform by the 2022 World Cup host. "We are looking now about the final details of the exit visa, we expect a deal within the next two weeks," said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation and a once-vocal critic of Qatar's labour laws... The exit visa system has long been savaged by critics of Qatar's labour practices as a prime example of the Gulf state's exploitation of its vast migrant workforce, which numbers some two million... Human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement Sunday that Qatar should introduce "a timetable for meaningful" reform. Qatar should "urgently publish a robust and effective plan of action to remove the excessive restrictions that enable employers to trap migrant workers in exploitative situations", it said.

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Article
12 March 2018

World Cup host Qatar to introduce labour complaint reform

Author: The New Arab

Qatar will introduce a labour panel to assess grievances by migrant workers later this month, a major reform agreed by the 2022 World Cup host with the United Nations... The reform would be introduced in eight days and the panel would begin its work on March 18, a government spokesman confirmed to AFP. Labour disputes have, until now, been dealt with inside the court system, but the panel will be overseen by the labour ministry. The panel was part of a package of wholesale reforms agreed by Qatar last November as it sought to head-off a potentially embarrassing enquiry being launched by the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) into alleged labour exploitation. Other reforms announced included clamping down on passport confiscation by employers, making it easier for workers to switch jobs and the introduction of a minimum wage, which Qatar has "temporarily" set at 750 Qatari riyals ($206, 167 euro) a month...  Human rights groups have attacked the Gulf state for its "kafala" sponsorship system, which forces the country's some two million migrant workers to seek employer's consent to change jobs or leave the country. But Doha insists the proposed reforms will dismantle kafala and place workers on a contractual system instead...

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Article
23 November 2017

Joint labour panel at firms employing 30 or more workers

Author: Qatar News Agency, The Peninsula (Qatar)

...[I]n [a] decision [set out by] the Minister of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs...each establishment employing 30 or more workers...[shall form a] “joint committee”...comprising representatives of the employer and workers, and it should be noted that half of the members of the committee represent the employer, and the other half of them represent the workers...[A]ll facility workers will elect their representatives to the Joint Committee, while the employer chooses...representatives...from among...employees who are legally acting on behalf of [the company]...The term of membership of the Joint Labor Committee will be for two years...The Joint Committee shall study and discuss all issues related to the work in the establishment, including the organization of work, ways to increase production and development, improve productivity, workers’ training programs, risk prevention tools, improve the level of adherence to occupational safety and health rules, and develop the general culture for workers...[The decision also includes] provisions related to the terms of membership...and...electoral process...

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Article
17 November 2017

Qatar sets temporary minimum wage at 750 riyals

Author: Kathmandu Post (Nepal)

Qatar, a prime destination for Nepali migrant workers, has set a temporary minimum wage for migrant workers worth around 750 riyals...a month. The minimum wage is 150 riyals less than the minimum wage proposed by the Nepal government. AFP reported that Qatar's Labour Minister Issa al-Nuaimi said that the "temporary minimum wage...will immediately come into effect", while officials work on setting a permanent rate and the figure could increase after a review...Qatar had earlier committed to set a minimum wage policy during a meeting with the UN's International Labour Organisation...[In] 2013, [Nepal] had set 900 riyals as the minimum wage and 300 riyals for fooding for the migrant workers in view of inflation in the Gulf nation and decided to send workers to only those companies who would provide the set amount. "I am very disappointed with the decision made by Qatar," said Bhakta Rai, a migrant worker who has been working in construction for the past 10 years, "Our minimum wage should at least be 1,500 riyals as we are now getting 1,200 riyals. This decision only favours the companies and Qatar and not us"...

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Article
13 November 2017

Our companies hold the power to make sure life continues to get better for workers in Qatar

Author: Sandip Verma, CityAM.com (UK)

“Qatar has set a new standard for the Gulf states, and this must be followed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where millions of migrant workers are trapped in modern slavery.” These are...the words...of Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation...this matters, because Qatar is a close military and economic ally of the UK. We are the country’s single largest investment destination...With so much construction currently being undertaken in the country – a lot of it with British company involvement – there are an estimated 1.8m migrant workers. Over the past couple of years, the...ILO has been investigating labour laws in Qatar. [Due to]..international pressure, there has been a swathe of labour law improvements, including...domestic worker rights, changes to the...Kafala system, fines on businesses for violation, the establishment of employee grievance panels, and changes to make it easier for employees to return to their home country and to switch jobs...[T]hese legal changes need to be accompanied by cultural changes and enforcement...British companies working in Qatar and with Qataris here in the UK have the power to model change...they can ensure the social responsibility that we have here towards our workers is reflected for their workforce in Qatar.

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Article
9 November 2017

BWI welcomes ILO decision and agreement with Qatar

Author: Building and Wood Workers’ International

The Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) welcomes the decision of the...ILO to close the complaint against Qatar. BWI also welcomes the Qatar government’s commitment to seriously implement reforms that would protect workers’ rights and improve the living and working condition of migrant workers. This is an achievement of good-faith engagement, patience and persistence...BWI [is also cooperating] with the Supreme Committee  [through] a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2016 and has already conducted in five joint occupational health and safety inspections. The inspection process has resulted in concrete and immediate improvements in the health and safety measures in several stadium construction sites. It demonstrates that our common efforts with the Supreme Committee can improve the health and safety of workers on the ground, where it counts. BWI’s work with the employers in the construction industry includes a far-reaching agreement with QDVC, a Qatari joint venture with Qatari Diar Real Estate Investments Company and VINCI Construction Grands projects, and VINCI, a large French-based multinational...

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Article
27 October 2017

Can Qatar deliver on its worker 'revolution'?

Author: AFP

On the surface it appears to deliver all that critics have long campaigned for...there remains scepticism that Qatar will really deliver true change. Mustafa Qadri, executive director of Equidem, a human rights research organisation, said the reform package was "a positive sign" but also stressed the need to wait for results. "We have heard this before in 2014 when the government came out and said it would abolish kafala and get rid of the exit permit," he told AFP. "Then what we saw was that reform was slow and there were some changes but not the abolition of kafala."

Responding to the emerging scepticism, Saif Al-Thani, the director of Qatar's Government Communications Office, tweeted that the hugely wealthy emirate would develop its labour laws in line with international standards.

There may also have been another factor at play for Doha's apparent concessions -- the ongoing Gulf crisis, which has seen Qatar boycotted by neighbouring countries. Qatar has repeatedly claimed the boycott has impacted on the human rights of its citizens, and arguably the most vocal body during the nearly five-month-old dispute has been its National Human Rights Committee. Claiming rights abuses by others, while being accused of the same thing with regards to migrant workers, is not an easy thing for Qatar to explain. By radically overhauling its treatment of migrant workers, Qatar would also distinguish itself from other states in the region and present itself as more progressive than its neighbours.

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Article
27 October 2017

Qatar pledges on migrant workers' rights must be backed by action: rights groups

Author: Heba Kanso, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Qatar, host of the 2022 soccer World Cup, has pledged a series of labor reforms in response to criticism of its treatment of migrants workers, but the promises must be backed by new laws and concrete action, human rights groups said...genuine commitment to reform can only be proved by legislation and strict implementation of new labor laws.

“This agreement laid out the pathway for reform but Qatar has to travel that pathway,” Fabien Goa, migrant researcher for Amnesty International, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Gulf labor rights researcher Mustafa Qadri, executive director of Equidem Research & Consulting, said enforcement was crucial. “Passing laws alone don’t really change anything. What we really need to see on the ground is actual change”.

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