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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

‘Ground-breaking’ Supreme Committee initiative forces contractors to reimburse millions to migrant workers


The initiative prevents migrant workers from exploitation.

Around QAR 82.35 million has been reimbursed by contractors to thousands of workers as part of a revolutionary scheme by the Supreme Committee (SC) to combat the illegal practice of charging recruitment fees.

The fees are illegally obtained from potential workers looking to move to Qatar to make a living. It can reach up to a thousand dollars, creating a huge burden for those already struggling financially and creates a false hope of future income.

For that reason, the SC has launched a “ground-breaking” initiative — Universal Reimbursement Scheme — to help thousands of migrant workers obtain their rights.

To date, more than QAR 82.35 million has been reimbursed to workers. In addition, and as as a testament to the Qatar 2022 legacy in action, 11 SC contractors have extended the scheme to cover 18,066 non-SC workers, according to Mohamed al-Hajri, Compliance and Audit Director of the Workers’ Welfare Department.

However, the bigger issue lies with those who cannot provide legal proof that they paid recruitment fees, significantly hindering reimbursement by their employers, according to the official.

“Our solution was to transfer the burden of proof away from the employee and on to the employer through the scheme. As a result, 266 contractors have agreed to reimburse approximately QAR 103.95 million to 49,286 SC and non-SC workers over a 36-month period,” said al-Hajri.

The hopeful numbers were announced during an event on Wednesday marking International Migrants Day, which was held this year under the theme ‘Harnessing the Potential of Human Mobility.’

Held by the International Organisation of Migration’s mission in Qatar, the event discussed effective ways in which Qatar has taken steps forward towards implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, an international agreement that addresses all aspects of international migration.

Various prominent officials and stakeholders from the Gulf state were present at the event, including the newly-appointed Minister of Labour Dr. Ali bin Saeed bin Smaikh al-Marri, as well as Dr. Ahmad Hassan al-Hammadi, secretary-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and representatives from the Ministries of Interior, Justice and Public Health.

The latest initiative aims to recognise the immense contribution of the migrant workforce in building state-of-the-art stadiums, while also working to create a safe and exploitation-free working environment.

“At the peak of construction, we welcomed over 30,000 migrant workers from across the world, and since day one, we have been working hard to ensure every individual working on our projects is treated with utmost respect and dignity,” the official highlighted.

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Several other initiatives that have been put into place to protect workers’ rights were also discussed during the event, including the Workers’ Welfare Standards, established in 2014.

Those crucial steps were put in place to protect the rights of migrant workers that have contributed to the delivery of the first FIFA World Cup – the first to take place in the Middle East and Arab world.

“They protect our workers throughout their time with us – from recruitment to repatriation – covering critical areas such as recruitment and contracts, wages, accommodations, access to remedy, and health and safety,” he said.

SC also recognises the importance of worker representation, the official stressed, and giving workers a voice to express their concerns. This has been provided through the Workers’ Welfare Forums – the SC’s flagship grievance platform, worker interviews as well as a dedicated Grievance Hotline for employees to report issues anonymously.

“The SC introduced Workers’ Welfare Forums, which allow workers to elect representatives to speak on their behalf about any concerns they have without fear of retaliation. Over 113 forums were conducted at peak, covering 23,500 workers,” the official said.

“Both the International Labour Organisation and Qatar’s Ministry of Labour have studied the impact of the forums to support the replication of joint worker-employer committees in Qatar, which is yet another testament of the legacy we are building as part of the tournament.”

Other initiatives include the introduction of comprehensive medical screenings, mental health screenings, an electronic medical record system, and the deployment of over 45,000 StayQool suits to address heat stress.

With less than a year for the much-awaited FIFA World Cup kick-off, SC said its working hard to ensure that its Workers’ Welfare Standards are properly implemented and in operation across all sectors.

“We want to make sure that the work we do in this area leaves a legacy that lasts well beyond the final whistle. Our work is critical in informing the country’s legislation for migrant workers and accelerating its efforts in establishing unprecedented welfare standards and practices in the region’s labour industry,” said al-Hajri.

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