Firmer implementation of Qatar’s labor law and new complexes for low-income workers are the government’s answer “to any outside media reports” that criticize the country’s rights record, Labor Minister Dr. Abdullah bin Saleh al-Khulaifi told journalists yesterday.
During a visit to the under construction “Workers’ City” in the Industrial Area, the minister said that the 1.8 million square meter Barwa Al Baraha project, which will eventually accommodate some 53,000 low-income expats, was just one example of how Qatar is committed to improving conditions for the country’s labor workforce.
Speaking to the Gulf Times, the minister admitted that recent articles in the international press criticizing conditions for migrant laborers had given the country “a bad image,” prompting some to call for an overhaul of the country’s public relations strategy.
However, he stated that the government was opting to respond to critics with “actions to prove our statements.” He also told the newspaper that he hadn’t read the articles in question:
“I haven’t seen them and I haven’t inquired into them. I have so many activities on the ground. I am a boots-on minister and not an office minister,” he said.
Part of the work at hand involves enforcing the country’s existing Labor Law. The Ministry of Labor carried out 40,000 inspections of work sites, offices and camps last year, a number that is expected to rise significantly this year, al-Khulaifi said.
He added that his office is working with Qatar Central Bank (QCB) and the Ministry of Finance to address issues with late or withheld salary payments. The intention is to make it mandatory for private companies to open bank accounts for each employee, he said.
He also signaled the establishment of a new park for laborers in Al Khor – the first, he said, of several such facilities which are intended to be built around the country.
The $1 billion Barwa Al Baraha project has been under construction since 2008. It was originally slated to open in 2010, but has been subject to a number of unexplained delays.
In January, Barwa announced the completion of Al Baraha’s first phase, the opening of a truck parking lot billed to be the world’s largest. However, media reports suggest this is still significantly underused.
The second phase, which involves building accommodation for some 53,000 low-income expats and employees, is now well underway, with some 32 of its residential buildings expected to ready by the summer.
When the entire development is completed, it will include amenities like dining and laundry services, as well as shops, a mosque, sports fields, used car showrooms and office space.
A shopping center, health center and safety center with police, civil defense and fire prevention services will also be set up, according to Barwa’s website.
Journalists given a tour of Barwa Al Baraha yesterday were shown examples of typical bedrooms on the site, some of which were designed for six people, and furnished with three bunk beds.
This layout, however, contravenes new minimum living and working standards laid out for laborers working on 2022 World Cup projects, which specify that “there are to be a maximum of four beds to a room, with bunk beds and bed sharing prohibited.” A Qatar Foundation Workers’ Charter, announced last April, also included this rule.
Similarly, a handbook of guidelines for temporary labor camps published by Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee last year echoed these regulations, as did a 2005 law governing accommodation in these camps.
However, it is possible that Barwa Al Baraha’s status as a permanent, purpose-built facility has allowed it to house more workers in each room.
Barwa has not yet responded to a request for comment.