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Monday, January 24, 2022

Qatar gov. responds after British NGO highlights ‘migrant worker abuse at World Cup hotels’


Qatar’s government has responded to the report by reiterating the Gulf state’s commitment to clamping down on companies who violate human rights.

The UK-based Business & Human Rights Resource Centre released a report on Wednesday detailing cases of forced labour in Qatar’s hotels, calling for the protection of workers’ rights in the Gulf state.

Titled  “Checked Out: Migrant worker abuse in Qatar’s World Cup luxury hotels”, the report reveals how migrant workers at hotels in Qatar are suffering from human rights abuses including “extortionate recruitment fees, discrimination and being trapped in a job through fear of reprisal and intimidation”.

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“These deeply troubling findings illustrate the wide gulf between hotel brands’ policies and the worrying experience of workers who lack even the basic freedom to change jobs,” read the report.

The NGO said it initially invited 19 hotel companies, representing more than 100 global brands with over 80 properties across Qatar, to participate in the survey, but only 11 responded.

Among its key findings, the report found there was a lack of transparency among hotels surveyed, with only four out of the 19 brands disclosing names of recruiters. Workers were also unable to freely change their jobs, it said.

The report said the violations took place despite Qatar’s new reforms that dismantled the no-objection certificate and abolished the controversial Kafala system.

“Almost all workers revealed at least some issues with changing jobs, ranging from not being allowed to break their contract to fear of intimidation and reprisal, including deportation, if they requested transfer,” read the report.

Responding to the survey, Qatar’s Government Communications Office [GCO] said the Gulf state has been introducing “a raft of major reforms” to improve the country’s labour standards and ensure the protection of its workers.

“All companies are required to strictly adhere to the laws. Qatar takes a zero-tolerance approach against violating companies, issuing harsh penalties including prison sentences,” read the statement.

The GCO also urged workers to file complaints with the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs [ADLSA] through recent channels of communication that have been introduced, including the platform for workers’ complaints.

“Addressing the hospitality sector directly, the Ministry of ADLSA has created and distributed a comprehensive employment guide in cooperation with the Institute for Human Rights and Business [IHRB] and the International Labour Organization [ILO] to raise awareness of the new laws and ensure their effective implementation,” added the GCO.

The British NGO had conducted a similar survey in 2018 which looked at 17 hotel companies, seven of which responded.

In comparison to the first report, the engagement rate with the latest survey increased to 58% participation, jumping from 41% in the previous one.

The latest report also focused on the implementation of policies in place that are aimed at shielding workers from any labour rights violations.

“[The report] looked specifically at how companies ensured business partners and suppliers complied with brand standards on worker welfare and human rights. This included identifying which companies were carrying out the monitoring practices they claim to undertake at the global level,” stated the NGO.

Companies in the report were given star ratings per their responses to 28 questions posed in the survey and were informed about the process in which their answers would be evaluated.

“Eight brands either did not provide any data or said they had not detected any instances, whilst failing to outline robust mechanisms to safeguard against fee charging,” the report said.

Based on the responses, recruitment remained a key issue for employees, with eight out of 18 workers interviewed saying they had to pay recruitment fees.

Furthermore, 10 out of 18 workers interviewed reported that pay and position were dependent on nationality. Subcontracted workers also said they received substantially less for the same work as their fellow employees and were subject to passport confiscation and delayed wages.

“Most brands did not disclose any due diligence steps to monitor the treatment of subcontracted workers and several brands referred to carrying out audits or ‘reserving the right’ to do so despite the well-known failure of audits to detect serious abuse in supply chains,” said the report.

Recommendations to hotel brands

To conclude its report, the NGO listed several recommendations that can be made to ensure workers are protected and are not mistreated.

Among the measures is having a tailored due diligence monitoring process by holding regular interviews with subcontracted workers and assurance of non-retaliation while cooperating with migrant rights NGO’s.

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“In the absence of workers being able to freely organise, establishing meaningful worker committees where workers, including subcontracted workers, are elected by peers and can bring issues to management’s attention without fear of reprisal,” the report suggested.

The NGO also called for training workers and subcontractors on their legal rights under labour reforms, while also training all hotel management to ensure they understand their obligations in protecting their workers.

Historic reforms

Qatar has come under a global spotlight since winning the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010 – the first country in the Middle East to do so. In response, the Gulf state has responded to criticism over reported abuses of migrant workers by introducing historic reforms to the country.

Last year, Qatar dismantled its controversial kafala sponsorship system and imposed the region’s first ever “non-discriminatory” minimum wage law.

Most notably, it nullified a No-Objection Certificate which had formerly been criticised as a way of confining migrant workers into one job. The new law now gives workers freedom to change jobs without permission from current employers.

As part of the major labour reform agenda, Qatar has drastically enhanced monitoring across the board to detect violations, enacting swifter penalties and further strengthening the capacity of labour inspectors.

Employers who violate any of the reformed laws have been penalised in recent weeks, with authorities confirming more than 232 companies were temporarily shut down in June alone for breaching rules on summer working hours.

In recent months, authorities took swift action to respond to complaints from workers who protested in the capital over salaries that did not meet the new minimum wage.

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