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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Amnesty International: ‘Ongoing abuse of domestic workers in Qatar’

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Stressed, overworked and abused, in its latest report, rights group Amnesty International says this is the reality for many domestic workers. Meanwhile, the government says it’s ready to punish employers who mistreat or abuse their staff.

Amnesty International has shed a light on some of the injustices faced by domestic workers in Qatar in a report released on Tuesday.

The organisation spoke to 105 female domestic workers in Doha and recorded troubling incidents including violations of Qatar’s labour law by their employees.

Despite their contracts specifying a maximum of 10 hours of work per day and guaranteeing them a day off each week, Amnesty found that the majority of those interviewed were being forced to work an average of 16-to-20 hours per day without any rest. 

“I never had a day off in my three years and eight months of work in Qatar,” Rosalinda, a domestic worker is quoted as saying.

According to the report, 85 percent of the women interviewed did not have a day off since the start of their employment and 86 percent worked for more than 14 hours a day.

The workers were expected to be the first up in the morning and are only allowed to sleep after the rest of the household goes to bed. They are asked to handle multiple tasks per day, including some that are beyond their assigned duties.

In Reina’s case, a 45-year-old Filipino woman, she’s expected to clean the house everyday despite being hired as the family’s driver. When she complained to the family who she works for about coming in as a driver, they yelled at her and said “you will do whatever we ask you to do!”

Read also: ‘We’ve been suffering for a long time’: Migrant workers struggle as company delays payments for almost a year

Apart from the illegally long hours of work and undertaking tasks that often fall out of their remit while also assuming the role of the mother in many instances, the women are exposed to several types of abuse in their workplace.

The report stated that 32 out of the 105 women interviewed said they had been shouted at, insulted or called degrading names. Additionally, 15 others said they had been physically abused, ranging from spitting and slapping to severe forms of assault.

“I asked for 30 minutes [of] sleep in the daytime but the 20-year-old daughter wouldn’t let me. If I go to rest she would pour cold water on my face, pull my hair. She said if I sleep she’ll pour hot water on my face. She broke the [bedroom] door, [there are] only curtains there now,” Mariam, a domestic worker told Amnesty International.

The abuse was not limited to being called names and working for long hours.

Five women said that they had been sexually abused and, in some cases, raped, a crime that Qatari law penalises far greater than labour violations.

Read also: Qatar ‘dismantles’ its Kafala system and introduces major new labour reforms

In Kim’s case, a domestic worker, her male employer would enter her room late at night and force himself on her, which then turned into a recurring series of sexual abuse. When she confided in her fellow Filipino worker, she found that she was not the only victim.

Both workers were too afraid to report the incidents to the police, and were also too intimidated by their employer’s wife who threatened to “kill” them if she saw them talking to her husband.

According to Amnesty, none of the women were able to voice their complaints to the police out of fear of retaliation by their employers or due to the feeling of shame that they felt following the abuse.

Government response

Doha News reached out to the Government Communications Office (GCO) for a statement.

In a statement, the GCO said that, if proven to be true, the allegations made by the individuals interviewed in the Amnesty International report constitute serious violations of Qatari law and must be dealt with accordingly.

The GCO added that the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) is ready to work with Amnesty to investigate the claims and ensure all guilty parties are held to account.

Qatar’s labour policies are constantly under review, including those related to domestic workers,” the GCO told Doha News. “Efforts are ongoing to strengthen the labour system and ensure domestic workers are further protected from abuse and exploitation.”

In response to the recommendations presented at the end of the report, which included implementing strict measures to ensure domestic workers are heard, the GCO said that they include several initiatives already being implemented or are on track to begin implementation. 

“Discussions are underway, for example, to establish a mechanism similar to the Wage Protection System for domestic workers, and when introduced in March 2021, the new minimum wage will apply to all workers, including domestic workers,” the GCO added.

Since introducing a Domestic Workers Law in 2017, Qatar has stepped up its efforts to address the needs and concerns of domestic workers, becoming a leader in labour reform in the region.

“This is an area of labour reform with many complex challenges, some of which still need to be overcome. MADLSA is working with its local and international partners to solve these challenges and provide solutions that bring long-term benefits to domestic workers and their employers,” said the GCO.

New labour reforms

In response to several reports of violations against migrant workers and domestic employees, Qatar has been making more changes in labour reforms.

In August’s reforms, Qatar’s government imposed strict payment laws that require employers to pay their workers a minimum wage of QAR 1,000, in addition to a housing allowance of QR 500 and food allowance of QR 300—bringing the total to QR 1,800.

MADLSA also dismantled the kafala system, which allows migrant workers to change jobs before the end of their contract without first having to obtain a ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) from their employer, providing protection for workers in the country.

The reforms came as part of the Qatar National Vision 2030, which included the protection of all workers in the country.


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