International human rights groups & trade unions warn Qatar's new labour law is insufficient, fails to protect migrant workers

Qatar’s much anticipated labour reforms came into effect on Tuesday 13 December 2016. Law No. 21 of 2015 introduces new provisions regulating the entry, exit and residency requirements of all migrant workers in Qatar. While the government states these reforms demonstrate an end to the ‘kafala’ system of sponsorship-based employment, critics warn Qatar’s new law is insufficient, and fails to adequately protect the 2.1 million migrants currently working in the country.

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Article
30 March 2017

Qatar denies violating labour law by blocking migrants from leaving

Author: Rejimon Kuttappan, Thompson Reuters Foundation

Qatar...denied it was violating a new labour law by blocking migrants from leaving the country, saying it was committed to enforcing reforms to improve the rights of millions of foreign workers...The Qatari government said in a statement that any suggestion it was not committed to enforcing the reforms or that it was denying the freedom of movement of foreign workers was "false"...Doha's "kafala" sponsorship system - under which migrants cannot change jobs or leave the country without their employer's permission - has come under scrutiny in recent years with allegations that the system amounts to forced labour. Qatar passed a law on Dec. 13 scrapping the need for migrants to get exit permits from employers, and imposing fines on employers who confiscate workers' passports and withhold their salaries. But trade unionists say migrants still require an exit permit from the government - and that more than 200 migrants have been blocked from leaving Qatar since the law was passed..."We have explicitly stated that expatriates would be prevented from leaving Qatar if there is strong evidence that the expatriate has committed fraud or is attempting to evade prosecution for a crime," the government statement said.

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Article
29 March 2017

Migrant workers blocked from leaving Qatar despite labor reforms

Author: Rejimon Kuttappan, Thompson Reuters Foundation

Qatar has refused to allow scores of migrants from countries including India, Nepal and Bangladesh to return home, violating new labor reforms to improve workers' rights, activists and trade unions said...

A law making it easier for migrants to change jobs and leave the oil-rich Gulf state - where many of them have been recruited to build soccer stadiums ahead of the 2022 Fifa World Cup - came into effect in December. The Qatari government has defended the reforms to replace the "kafala" sponsorship system...Trade unionists and activists say migrant workers still require an exit permit from the government - and of the 760 or so permit requests made by migrants, more than a quarter have been denied since the law was passed on Dec. 13 last year...data reported by the state-run Qatar News Agency earlier this month said the newly-established Exit Permit Grievances Committee had rejected 213 requests made up until Feb. 15. No reason was given for the requests being denied. The International Labour Organization has given Doha until November to implement the reforms or potentially face an investigation into the forced labor of migrants in the lead up to hosting the World Cup.

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Article
18 March 2017

‘We’re cheated, first in India, then in Qatar’: how World Cup workers are deceived

Author: Vivek Chaudhary, Guardian (UK)

The treatment of migrant World Cup workers in Qatar returns to the spotlight...when the International Labour Organisation debates proposals at its annual meeting in Geneva to force the country to implement labour reforms or face a commission of inquiry. This is the highest sanction of the UN agency, which is made up of trade unions, employers’ groups and government representatives from 187 member states, including Qatar, India and other south Asia nations. Central to the demands for the inquiry is the recruitment process...The recruitment process is only one of a number of criticisms levelled against Qatar over the World Cup. Others include workers being underpaid, poor living and working conditions and the kafala sponsorship system, which prevents them from changing jobs or leaving the country without the employer’s permission...

In response to mounting pressure, Qatar announced a number of reforms last December heralding that it had ended the kafala system...Critics protest that the reforms have been little more than window dressing and that considerable loopholes remain, meaning the kafala system and other repressive labour laws exist under different names. Trade unions remain banned, while employers are still able to stop workers from changing jobs for up to five years. Passport confiscation, officially outlawed, is also permissible under certain circumstances.

Kasi Ram (not his real name), a trade union organiser working secretly in Qatar, said: “It is Qatar that needs the workers and is in the best position to ensure that they are treated properly and fairly because, compared to India and Nepal, it is far richer and more powerful. But these are reforms in name only, the reality is that nothing has changed on the ground. The workers are exploited every step of the way, from the moment they step into a recruiting agent’s office right up to living and working in Qatar.”

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Article
14 December 2016

Qatar labour reform: Ending kafala barely scratches the surface

Author: Roshan Sedhai, The Kathmandu Post

Qatar hired 129,038 workers from Nepal in the fiscal year 2015-16, becoming the second largest recipient of Nepali migrants after Saudi Arabia. Nicholas McGeehan, Qatar researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that it would be apt to describe the new laws as “old wine in new bottle. Qatar has just given the dreadful “kafala” system a new name in the hope that people will be too stupid to notice. Nepal and other countries that send young men and women to Qatar should be making their objections loud and clear,” McGeehan told the Post in an email interview.

He said that Qatar’s “sham reforms” are meant to shrug off pressure that has been mounting on the country for its mistreatment of migrant workers. Qatar has drawn widespread criticism for its mistreatment of workers since it won the right to host the 2022 football World Cup. “What right does Qatar have to entrap young Nepali men and women in exploitative jobs and keep them from their families for up to five years? When will Nepal stand up for the fundamental rights of it people instead of just counting the money flowing back in remittances?” questioned McGeehan.

Nepali officials said that they would comment after they go through the new laws. Govinda Mani Bhurtel, spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour and Employment, said that Nepali side will raise concerns in the bilateral forum if the laws still fall short of safeguarding rights of the workers.  “I came to know about the new legislation through news reports. It is said that the new laws would make it easier for the workers to obtain exit visa and apply for work elsewhere. We will go through the legislation and make our views public,” said Bhurtel.

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Article
14 December 2016

What do Qatar's kafala reforms mean for company action on migrant rights?

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Amidst contention over the impact of Qatar’s kafala reforms on the lives of migrant workers, companies must look to international standards to ensure the rights of their migrant workforce.

In 2016, we invited 55 construction companies to participate in a survey on migrant rights in their Qatar operations.[5] The responses yielded important observations on the current status of corporate compliance with international labour standards and action on freedom of movement. Of the 55 companies we contacted, only 13 responded, and less than 25% had a publically available human rights commitment that referenced international standards and principles on human rights and labour.

The analysis of the survey responses revealed some examples of better practice, but overall there is far more that the construction sector can do to meet international expectations on transparency and freedom of movement for migrant workers...scrutiny of the sector and its business partners by international institutions, governments, media and civil society that will not end with these reforms.

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Article
+ العربية - Hide

Author: العرب

ألغت قطر أخيرا نظام “الكفيل" الذي كان ينظم تواجد العامل الأجنبي في الدولة من دون تقديم رؤية واضحة لفلسفة القوانين البديلة التي أعلنت عن العمل بها، ويقول مراقبون إنها لن تكون كافية لحل المعضلة التي تؤرق السلطات القطرية.

ويعج نظام الكفيل، الذي تعتمد عليه دول خليجية للسيطرة على عدد العمال الأجانب بالمشكلات، إلا أنه أثبت فاعلية في ضمان الاستقرار السياسي ونمو الاقتصاد الذي يشكل العمال الوافدون محركه الأساسي.

وتحاول الحكومة القطرية على ما يبدو تجنب انتقادات آخذة في التصاعد ضد نظام الكفالة، لكن ذلك لن تكون له جدوى في ظل تدني أجور العمال، وشكاوى من طول عدد ساعات العمل والإقامة في غرف لا تصلح غالبيتها للعيش الآدمي.

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Article
13 December 2016

2022 World Cup host Qatar loosens rules for migrant workers

Author: Adam Schreck, Associated Press

Qatar announced Monday it is introducing long-expected reforms to policies governing its vast foreign-labor force, though the changes still require workers to seek clearance from their bosses before leaving the country.

A statement released by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs said the changes are intended to ensure "greater flexibility, freedom and protection" to the more than 2.1 million workers in Qatar.

Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East director, Joe Stork said, "The message this law sends is that Qatar doesn't really care much about migrant workers. Its sponsorship system remains a serious stain on Qatar's international reputation."

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Article
13 December 2016

Migrant workers in Qatar still at risk despite reforms, warns Amnesty

Author: The Guardian (UK)

“It is good that Qatar has accepted that its laws were fuelling abuse but these inadequate changes will continue to leave workers at the mercy of exploitative bosses,” [James Lynch, deputy director for global issues at Amnesty] said. Lynch, a former British diplomat in Doha, said that in practice employers would still be able to stop migrant workers from leaving the country and that, by making it easier for employers to confiscate workers’ passports, the new law could make the situation worse. “The tragedy is that many workers think that this new law will be the end of their ordeal,” he said.

The Gulf state is spending an estimated $200bn on new transport infrastructure, housing and sports facilities, including six stadiums designed by architects including Lord Foster and the late Zaha Hadid. Construction for the 2022 World Cup will peak in the coming two years, and Spanish champions FC Barcelona are due to play an exhibition match in Doha on Tuesday.

Amnesty has warned Fifa that it “cannot continue to remain shamefully ambivalent to the plight of workers in Qatar” and said FC Barcelona “should make clear to their hosts their desire to play in a human rights-friendly environment. Players and clubs cannot live in a bubble”.

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Article
13 December 2016

Qatar labour ‘reforms’: actions speak louder than laws

Author: Stephen Russell, ToUChstone Blog

With the International Labour Organisation (ILO) regularly criticising the country and giving it a 2017 deadline to show progress in eradicating modern slavery, Qatar had little choice but to take action. The abolition of kafala would go some way to doing that, and move the country from an outmoded system of employer “sponsorship” (one step removed from ownership) and to a modern system based on contract law.

However, as the law has evolved, concerns have been growing that for all the grand claims of reform, Law 21 might prove to be little more than a veneer to present the country’s labour laws in a better light, and provide little of real substance to transform the difficult lives of migrant workers and protect those at greatest risk of abuse. What the law clearly does not do is change the fundamental power dynamic to allow workers to escape abusive employment. 

The timing is also concerning. We’d like to have more faith, but with the ILO Governing Body due to examine Qatar’s progress in March, we foresee that “give us a chance, we only brought in the laws in December” will be used as an excuse for a lot of failures, followed by arguments that they should be given another full year to show their effectiveness.

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Article
13 December 2016

Qatar says labour reforms will benefit migrant workers

Author: Tom Finn, Noah Browning & Richard Lough, Thomson Reuters Foundation

The Qatari government on Monday vowed that labour law reforms to make it easier for migrant workers to change jobs and leave the country would bring "tangible benefits"...The reforms will establish the creation of state-run "grievance committees" to which workers can appeal if employers deny them permission. They will also allow workers who have completed contracts to change jobs freely and imposes fines of up to 25,000 riyal ($6,865.87) on businesses who confiscate employees' passports.

Amnesty International said in a statement that the new law would "barely scratch the surface of an abusive system". The campaign group called on Qatar to abolish exit permits altogether and ban passport confiscation.

A workforce of 2.1 million foreigners outnumbers Qatari citizens by about 10 to one. Unions and labor protests are banned. Japesh, an Indian construction worker waving traffic past a building site in Doha on Monday welcomed the reforms but said he would wait to see if the rules were enforced. "They [our bosses] told us before that things would improve but last month our passports were taken and our pay was delayed again," he said.

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