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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Qatar labour minister vows work to improve workers’ rights to continue after 2022


Qatar has been facing criticism by international organisations over the treatment of migrant workers in the country. 

Qatar’s Minister of Labour Ali bin Samikh Al Marri has responded to allegations that claimed his country is not doing “enough” to improve working conditions for migrant workers in the country ahead of next year’s FIFA World Cup.

Al Marri’s letter came in response to US-based news outlet, Financial Times, which highlighted claims by international organisations such as Amnesty International that accuse Qatar of not properly implementing its labour reforms. 

The FT report, headlined “Qatar under fire over conditions for migrant workers” quotes  founding director of human rights group FairSquare, James Lynch, as saying: “Some of the reforms have undoubtedly been positive, but the significant structural changes just started too late — 10 years after winning the World Cup — so it is unsurprising that implementation has, at best, been not good.

“It is still a nightmare for workers to leave their jobs, so the extent to which these changes have yet changed their lives for the better is extremely contested.

“There is also a lack of political will, with the business community in Qatar pushing back against labour mobility — so the big question is what will this issue look like once the spotlight of the World Cup fades away.”

In response, Al Marri stressed that the developments Qatar has made in ensuring workers’ rights will not stop after hosting the World Cup.

“We are the first country in the region with an International Labour Organization office, whose mandate will continue beyond 2022,” he highlighted.

“Working with the ILO, we introduced laws in line with international best practice. The next step has been to ensure that changes are fully implemented by shifting the deeply ingrained cultural attitudes of employers,” the minister said. 

The minister said the FT article has “no real acknowledgment of the context and speed with which Qatar has been carrying out reforms,” noting that “the changes are structural — and permanent — and will not end when the football World Cup is over.”

Last year, Qatar introduced the region’s first ever non-discriminatory minimum wage in what was considered part of a major ‘historic labour reform’ programme.

Unlike other former host countries, Qatar has been hit with significantly more criticism and controversy from western media ever since it was granted the right to host the region’s first-ever FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Topics of migrant rights, corruption allegations, and anti-LGBTQ laws have dominated headlines of most international media coverage of Qatar, despite the Gulf nation implementing vigorous labour reforms.

“In playing host, we opened our doors to the world and have taken on constructive criticism with respect and ambition. We have however to set the record straight by adding the data that are missing,” the Qatari minister added. 

Read also: Qatar welcomes ILO report on work-related incidents amid calls for transparency

“While everyone was convinced it was impossible to abolish “kafala” — the system whereby employers acted as “sponsor” and had the power to deport workers and to give permission for expatriates to leave the country — we managed to do just that,” he continued. 

As part of its efforts, Doha also introduced a minimum wage and improved living facilities of migrant workers nationwide.

“The concept of a minimum wage was well received, and now it is monitored through electronic payments and we plan to increase it. A total of 338 businesses were suspended for not respecting working hours this summer during the hottest months.

“We are committed to fulfilling lasting reforms, and our record on the ground shows exactly that,” Al Marri highlighted. 

Concerns over workers’ welfare

The minister’s response comes as FIFA held a meeting with a number of political institutions as well as independent human and workers rights organisations on Tuesday to discuss human rights in Qatar ahead of next year’s mega event.

“The virtual round table included members of the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the Parliament of Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Cyprus, Norway, Denmark, Romania, Italy and Slovenia, as well as senior level representatives from the EU Commission, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the United Nations, WHO, UNODC and UNESCO,” according to FIFA. 

The representatives discussed with the Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy Hassan Al Thawadi, and experts from ILO, BWI, ITUC and the Fare network, as well as FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Secretary General Fatma Samoura, concerns on a number of key topics.

The talks focused on workers’ welfare and LGBTQIA rights, with Infantino acknowledging the “enormous progress that has already been achieved”. 

However, he noted that “there are still challenges but the authorities here in Qatar deserve big credit from all of us. Issues continue to exist, like in all countries in the world.

“Not everything is perfect in our western world either. So we need to push for progress but also support those who want genuinely to make progress, acknowledging that it sometimes takes time.”

Ambet Yuson General Secretary of the Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI) said: “Migrant workers are telling me: ‘Thank you to the World Cup, because there is big change in Qatar. Our working and living conditions are gradually improving and we are happy with the labour reforms.’

“They just have the wish that these reforms are strictly enforced and apply to all the migrant workers. But they are also worried what happens after the World Cup, and we want to see that these changes continue after the World Cup is over.”

Meanwhile, Al Thawadi stressed his country’s commitment to achieve progress under the framework of human rights, despite reports questioning Doha. 

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