News 29 October 2015

ILO to consider inquiry into migrant worker abuse in Qatar

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is to consider a Commission of Inquiry into the abuse of migrant workers in Qatar, after the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) dismissed a new labour law passed on 28 October as “sham reforms”. On 28 October, Emir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani issued Law Number 21 of 2015 ‘regulating the entry and exit of expatriates and their residency’.

The law requires employer approval or Ministry approval for a migrant worker to be able to leave the country, except in ‘emergency cases’ where a decision will be taken in three working days. Workers can only change contracts at the end of their employment contract if they have permission from their employer, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Even if a contract is open-ended, a worker will only be able to move jobs after five years, and will still require the approval of his employer and both Ministries. Before the end of a contract, the new law requires employer approval and the approval of both Ministries before a worker can take another job.

The ILO meeting, ‘Global Dialogue Forum on Good Practices and Challenges in Promoting Decent Work in Construction and Infrastructure Projects’, will take place in Geneva, 19-20 November. An ITUC statement said that the meeting would ‘consider a Commission of Inquiry into abuse of migrant workers in Qatar putting governments and companies under increasing pressure to protect migrant workers in Qatar’. The ITUC said that the investigation will also look at ‘Qatar’s failure to act on ILO findings that it is violating both the ILO’s forced labour Convention and labour inspection Convention and would have wide ranging implications for companies doing business in Qatar. More than $200 billion is being spent on infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup and Qatar’s 2030 Vision.’

The ITUC estimates that more than 7,000 workers will die before the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar, and has launched an informative Qatar Exposed project (see below), detailing the various human rights abuses and worker deaths taking place in Qatar. The project also details how workers are not paid on time, and companies refuse to pay workers who have returned home money owed.

On the same day that the Law was published, the International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS) appeared to avoid a question on what the organisation would do to force sport to tackle human rights abuses in Qatar. “We speak in favour of human rights”, said Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros, CEO of ICSS Europe, at Play The Game 2015. The ICSS is 70% funded by the government of Qatar.

“Promises of reform have been used as a smokescreen to draw in companies and governments to do business in Qatar as the Gulf State rolls out massive infrastructure developments to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup”, said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary. “International companies doing business in Qatar can no longer be lured by Qatar’s promises of reform. The threat to the reputation of international companies using an enslaved migrant workforce in Qatar has increased with the Government’s sham reforms.”

“The tragedy of 1.7 million migrant workers trapped in Qatar defines modern-day slavery and the denial of trade union rights for workers in the Gulf States”, continued Burrow. “Qatar continues not only to deny workers their rights, but to obscure and ignore the deaths of migrant workers building the 2022 World Cup infrastructure. 700,000 more migrant workers have been drafted into Qatar to develop the country at breakneck speed. The relentless pressure to develop regardless of the human cost puts working people at risk. Enslaved by the kafala system, with no trade union rights or recourse to grievance procedures, workers are trapped in Qatar.”

Burrow said that the figure of 7,000 deaths is based on data from the Qatar Supreme Council for Health, which publishes death rates for migrant workers revealing an annual toll over over 1,000. “Qatar has to stop covering up its treatment of migrant workers, and governments and business need to end their complicity with modern slavery”, said Burrow. “Qatar’s migrant worker population is set to peak by 2017, to deliver the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. Only by ending the kafala system now, giving workers the right to freedom of association, can we ensure migrant workers in Qatar have a safe and secure future.”

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