Qatar’s promises to improve the lives of migrant workers do not line up with reality, Amnesty International claimed in a new report, as Doha says more work needs to be done.
A new report by Amnesty International delves into the challenges faced by migrant workers in Qatar despite recent historic reforms announced by the government.
The report, “Reality Check 2020: Countdown to the 2022 World Cup,” praises Qatar’s continued progress towards positive labour reform since 2017, but questions whether they have been implemented by authorities on the ground.
Amnesty praised the creation of a minimum wage law, abolishing exit permit and no objection letter requirements, as well as the establishment of committees designed to settle labour disputes.
However, Amnesty fell short of declaring victory due to gaps in the implementation of various laws, including those that would allow for employees to continue to face abuse.
“Although Qatar had finally begun a high-profile reform process promising to tackle widespread labour exploitation and “align its laws and practices with international labour standards”, migrant workers were still vulnerable to serious labour abuses,” said the report.
Qatar still needs to immediately and effectively implement laws, strengthen inspection mechanisms, improve workers’ access to justice and respect the right of workers to form trade unions, the report says.
Despite being the first country in the region to abolish the kafala sponsorship system, there are some restrictions to the right to free movement for workers in Qatar. According to the report, employers can still request that 5% of their workforce need to apply for an exit permit.
Furthermore, domestic workers need to give a 72-hour notice to their employer before leaving the country.
The report also described how some employers report workers to law enforcement by filing charges of “absconding” or “stealing” in a last ditch attempt to abuse workers that have left.
Currently, there are also no legal consequences for employers who breach the provisions, offering no deterrent to abuse.
Migrant workers are tied to their sponsors from the moment they enter the country and throughout their employment. They cannot themselves request or renew their residence permits and it is the responsibility of the sponsor to do so, according to the Sponsorship Law.
Employers also continue to have the legal right to cancel workers’ residence permits, resulting in them losing their right to stay in Qatar and consequently facing arrest and deportation.
Qatar recently made headlines for announcing a non-discriminatory minimum wage for all migrant workers in the country, setting the standard at QR 1,000 for a basic salary, in addition to a housing allowance of QR 500 and food allowance of QR 300.
Employers who pay their staff less than the minimum wage face one-year in jail and a QR 10,000 fine.
Qatar has also implemented the Wage Protection System, introduced in November 2015, which mandates companies to pay their employees by electronic transfer and allows the government to monitor compliance.
In principle, the system should encourage regular payment of wages, provide evidence to support workers’ grievances lodged with Labour Committees and, crucially, enable the government to intervene immediately to stop wage theft and thereby avoid workers reaching a crisis point after months of nonpayment of wages.
Despite these laws, Doha News has previously reported on several occasions where migrant workers were not paid their due wages for months. This has only been exacerbated by COVID-19
One worker told Doha News that he had been forced to take out loans just to survive, and has since been struggling to pay back what he has borrowed because he has still not received his salary.
“We work hard in the company, we fully support the company, but nobody is helping us now,” said a worker.
More work needed
In a statement to Doha News, the Government Communications Office [GCO] admitted more work needs to be done.
“The latest Amnesty report highlights the progress Qatar has made to reform its labour system in the last four years. This includes measures to ensure the labour laws introduced by the government are fully implemented and strictly enforced. We have always said that this is a long-term process,” the statement said.
“Our labour reform programme is by no means completed and we will continue to work with our international partners to create holistic and long-lasting change. We will review the report’s recommendations as part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen and improve the labour system,” the GCO added.