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Friday, September 17, 2021

QF report: Corrupt process of recruiting workers to Qatar needs reform

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The system of recruiting and hiring semi- and unskilled expats to work in Qatar is riddled with “endemic corruption” and unethical practices that result in trafficking, debt bondage and forced labor, according to a new report commissioned by Qatar Foundation.

The 160-page document, Migrant Labor Recruitment to Qatar, calls for an overhaul of the process of recruiting blue collar workers to the country.

Produced as part of the Qatar Foundation Migrant Worker Welfare Initiative, the report comes as the Gulf state faces international criticism for labor rights abuses.

It does not deny that problems exist here, but points out that many expats’ troubles begin with the recruitment process in their home countries.

The report focuses particularly on the role played by recruitment agents in the five main “labor sending” countries of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines.

These countries supply the vast majority of the 450,000 manual laborers employed in Qatar’s construction industry, according to 2011 figures.

Broken system

According to the report, current recruitment practices in sending countries are fueled by bribery, deceit and corruption, which give rise to basic human rights violations and exploit vulnerable workers.

Some of the main problems involve the hefty fees many expats must pay to recruitment companies to secure their passage to Qatar, and the false contracts presented to them in their home countries.

On the Qatar side of things, the withholding of passports, late or non-existent payments and the restrictive kafala sponsorship system only contribute to workers’ woes, the report states.

Author Dr. Ray Jureidini added that a serious overhaul of the system was needed, and called on the Qatari government to lead the reforms by developing ethical recruitment practices with the sending countries.

In a statement, Jassim Telefat, group executive director of QF’s Capital Projects and Facilities Management, said:

“Many people are currently being forced to make illegal payments to unscrupulous employment agents in their home countries in order to secure Qatari work visas.

“The result is that these individuals are placed in long-term debt. We are not prepared to tolerate this type of arrangement, and are working to address the issue as a matter of priority.”

Many of the changes proposed in the report have already been raised in other documents, including the government-commissioned DLA Piper report that was published earlier this year.

However, this document stands out as it was commissioned and published by QF, a local entity that is government-funded and has a significant profile, both internationally and at home.

The organization, which put out a workers’ charter last year, is also in the midst of several construction projects, including a new headquarters, a national library and Sidra Medical & Research Center.

To arrive at its findings, the study conducted interviews and discussion groups with expat workers, government representatives, recruitment agencies, academics, NGOs and international agencies.

The report states that government officials in Nepal, India and Bangladesh admitted problems existed and complained of “endemic corruption throughout the system.”

Illegal fees

One of the first recommendations made in the report is for Qatar to work with sending countries’ governments on an internet recruitment system. It also advised the Gulf state to establish a National Employment Bureau to coordinate all recruitment policies and procedures.

The second proposal tackles one of the biggest issues facing the system – the hefty fees charged by recruitment agents and local sub-agents, which causes workers to become mired in debt before they even leave home.

The amount charged ranges from $600 to $5,000 per worker, generally exceeding the legal limit in each sending country. To pay these fees, expats often have to sell family assets and take on loans with interest rates of 30 to 60 percent, which violates Islamic finance principles.

The report described this process as “essentially a form of extortion by agents to secure jobs in Qatar.”

Migrant report - agency fees

It also questioned why unskilled and semi-skilled workers were made to pay for their own flights, medical tests, visas and other unspecified expenses, while employers in Qatar generally cover these costs for skilled and professional workers.

Finally, “kickback payments” from the agents to the employers in Qatar were criticized as being tantamount to bribes for securing contracts.

To secure contracts, recruiters often offer to pay companies between $200-$600 per employee needed. The agent then recoups that money from the workers by adding it on to their admin fees. According to the report:

“This practice must be seen as one of the most cynically exploitative practices in modern labor recruitment. It is the most vulnerable, the poorest, low-skilled, least-educated and least able to pay who are charged the fees (by the agents).”

It added that if 300,000 low-skilled workers move to Qatar in the next two to three years to work on infrastructure projects, this would amount to the transfer of $120 million in bribes from agents abroad to employers here – “serious corruption.”

The report called for all recruitment fees to be banned and for employing companies to bear all hiring costs, as they currently do for skilled workers and professionals.

Substitute contracts

Another major problem is that workers can be duped into coming to Qatar with the promise of a well-paid or attractive sounding job. But when they arrive, they are instead made to work for a much lower salary, or in a totally different role with longer hours and poorer conditions, the report found.

These expats are often not given their contract prior to leaving their own country, and it is rare for them to have access to the document in a language they can understand that details terms and conditions.

Even those who have signed a contract are often made to sign another under duress – a substitute contract either at the airport as they leave their home country, or once they arrive in Qatar.

employment contract

The report found that most workers interviewed (55.7 percent) did not sign a contract in their home country, while 76.8 percent signed one in Qatar.

This means that nearly one third of all low-skilled workers were made to sign substitute, lower-grade contracts once they arrived. Burdened with debt, these workers have no choice but to accept their new positions and conditions.

This situation amounts to trafficking of people, debt bondage and forced labor, the report stated.

To tackle the problem, it recommended that Qatar’s government set ethical standards in agreement with sending country governments.

QF report - ethics

There should also be accreditation and monitoring processes established for all agents, sub-agents and employers to ensure they comply with these standards.

The Qatar government could also set up its own recruitment agencies in the main countries which adhere to the ethical principles, it added.

Finally, temporary labor suppliers, based in Qatar and who hire out workers to construction projects on a temporary basis, should be avoided where possible or at least required to act to the same ethical standards.

Another related recommendation is the standardization of contracts, with clearly defined terms and conditions including detailed termination conditions and liabilities.

Exit visas and NOCs

Closer to home, the report also focused on Qatar’s controversial kafala system, where workers are sponsored by individual Qataris or organizations.

Specifically, it called attention to the potential abuses caused by the system of exit visas and no objection certificates. It called for workers to be given automatic exit permits and NOCs, enabling them to change employers – particularly after their rights had been violated.

Saying kafala needs to be “seriously addressed,” the report also suggested that the Qatari government take over sponsorship of and responsibility for workers. It stopped short of calling for the system to be completely abolished, as many international human rights groups have done over the years.

Cognizant of the potential for abuse, Qatar authorities announced earlier this year that they would be making changes to the system, which would make it easier for expats to switch jobs and leave the country.

However, the pledges were criticized by human rights activists and expats, who felt the potential changes didn’t go far enough. At the same time, many prominent Qatari business owners expressed concern that the proposals were too radical.

Minimum wage

Qatar is already taking steps to address another report recommendation – that all workers should be paid directly by bank transfer, to avoid late and non-payment of wages.

Last week, the Cabinet ratified a draft law which would make it mandatory for all employers to pay their workers directly into their own bank account.

However, the lack of a free labor market means that there is no principle of equal pay for equal work. This means many people with the same qualifications but of different nationalities do the same job for different wages.

Worker - Richard Messenger-Flickr
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The report recommended that standardized wages be set, depending on qualifications, experience and skill rather than the worker’s nationality, with minimum wages set for all occupations within the construction sector.

This proposal has already been raised by other organizations, but was dismissed by the government when it announced its planned changes to the labor law in May.

The final recommendations made by the report are for the monitoring of contractors and sub-contractors over visa allocation – making sure that workers have the right visas for their jobs, and to set up detailed pre- and post-departure orientations for workers.

This would help them understand their rights, their employers’ responsibilities and to have better information on finance, health and family issues.

Christopher Newman, Welfare Manager at Qatar Foundation’s HSSE Directorate, said in a statement:

“The recruitment process in sending countries such as Philippines is a complex one, and many potential employees fall victim to such complexities as they are unaware of Qatari law which prevents illegal payments for visas, for example.

We are working to identify and ban any agents who engage in such practices and, at the same time, make prospective workers fully aware of their labor rights before they even arrive in Qatar.”

Here’s the full report:

Thoughts?

29 COMMENTS

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Firas Zirie
7 years ago

Fascinating summary of what seems like an interesting report. I’ll definitely give it a read.

I didn’t see any mention of the many “manpower agencies” that are locally owned and operated – aiding and abetting the foreign recruiters in the shameful practices mentioned. Perhaps it’s in the full report somewhere. Or maybe they didn’t want to ruffle too many feathers.

The ease with which companies can hire and indeed replace blue collar workers is a major part of why they are treated as disposable resources rather than human beings. Making recruitment more difficult and resigning easier will encourage companies to treat these hard working men better.

Deepak Babu
Deepak Babu
7 years ago

First step required for this is to assign responsibility and not let the big companies use the lame excuse – ” This was done by our sub-contractor without our knowledge”. They should be held equally liable for their sub-contractor’s shortcomings and illegal activities when it goes on under their noses and they prefer to just turn a blind eye for saving a few bucks.

A_qtr
A_qtr
7 years ago
Reply to  Deepak Babu

I don’t agree. If a company sets out very clear regulations for the sub contractor and the sub contractor willfully chooses to disobey and dodge the main contractor, then only the sub contractor should be held responsible.

However if it is proven the main contractor did not set out any guidelines and failed to do any spot checks, then it is safe to assume they are intentionally ignoring the sub violations.

Companies like QP, Shell, Exxon and other major oil and gas companies operating in Doha do a great job of ensuring all contractors down the chain comply with set out regulations with example of terminating contracts for things such as late pay or working overtime with no overtime pay.

Deepak Babu
Deepak Babu
7 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

If they wilfully choose to disobey and dodge the main contractor, the main contractor should report to the authorities and take the respective action of contract cancellation/ penalties. There are many companies that intentionally ignore the sub-contractor violations.

I don’t know about all the companies that you mentioned, but wasn’t there an article about construction going on for a QP building by sub-contractors during the afternoon posted recently? And I think Qatar Foundation is another big company which has been accused of the same in multiple articles.

Again, enforcement of rules and stricter fines/jail time for those responsible is what is missing. Kudos to those few companies who do follow the rules and set the right example.

A_qtr
A_qtr
7 years ago
Reply to  Deepak Babu

I’m not sure of the violation you are talking about, but I used to work almost a decade for QP. Oil and gas companies do not compromise on safety related issues. And as of the last few years the wellbeing of contracted workers has taken center stage. If there was any violation
reported, they immediately investigate and usually fire the contractors or have the contractor fire the responsible manager or supervisor, otherwise face the black list which means this company cannot contract with QP in the future or QP’s 3 dozen affiliates.

Deepak Babu
Deepak Babu
7 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Good on them if they are doing the right thing. This was the article I was talking about – https://dohanews.co/workers-seen-outdoors-midday-work-ban-takes-effect-qatar/ .

Ofcourse, QP could not be reached for comments was the only mention. They might have taken appropriate action if what you say is accurate.

sadam
sadam
7 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

like we all work for companies such as QP, Shell, Exxon …

A_qtr
A_qtr
7 years ago
Reply to  sadam

These companies aren’t charities show your value to these companies and they will hire you

A_qtr
A_qtr
7 years ago

Interesting article. a few months back I left a lengthy comment which more or less lays out the above, specifically how the recruits are held hostage in their own home town by loan sharks are forced to labor away just to cover their debts.

All in all they’re lucky if they retain 60% or so of their two years pay, as the rest would go into the pockets of illegals recruiters in their home town.

This is the greatest injustice they face as a large chunk of the little money they make goes to someone who simply has the power to sign off on some papers.

Haven’t red the full report but hope it also addresses the overall living conditions and the need for more specially built housing for low income expats.

Ms. Hala
7 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

I swear I had done the same thing and have been saying it time and time again that the problem starts with these shady recruiters.

I sincerely hope so too.

Deepak Babu
Deepak Babu
7 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Interesting bit in this article is the allegation of kickback provided by these recruiters to the companies in Qatar. I hadn’t heard about this part till this article.

johnny wang
johnny wang
7 years ago

For how long and in how many reports are we going to blame the recruitment process in their home countries for the problems.. Is it not time to own responsibility and take corrective action out here to stop this inhuman and shameful practices from top to bottom once and for all

A_qtr
A_qtr
7 years ago
Reply to  johnny wang

Agree let’s all ignore and not read the 160 page report which addresses the full chain of abuse and jump to our usual uneducated conclusions based on our pre assumptions and dn extracts.

And agree the labour mafias in Kerala which make labours sign over their land, cattle or anything they own as collateral and make you pay six month pay as a fee are in no means part of the abuse. Also forget the same nationality foremans and mid management who continue on the abuse as they’d rather pocket the difference of proper housing and the sh!t housing, pocket the reward for early completion of a project, skim on overtimes.

After all there is no such modern day slavery or abuses in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan or Africa which manifests itself in Doha through these middle management people.

Qatar and everyone else is responsible. Not just Qatar!

A_qtr
A_qtr
7 years ago
Reply to  johnny wang

where did my response to you go? it said it was under review…

Deepak Babu
Deepak Babu
7 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Disqus has a funny way of swallowing up comments if you use some “key words” . It will show up after a couple of hours or days.

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago

“One of the first recommendations made in the report is for Qatar to work with sending countries’ governments on an internet recruitment system.” And if the sending countries don’t want to cooperate, what then? Bribe their officials to do what’s right for their people?!

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

Good point. The Philippines have the POEA which is supposed to protect their overseas workers but in fact it is just legalised theft from Filipinos by their government. (Not to mention the bribes they have to pay to government workers sometimes to just leave the country)

So when their workers are a source of income for the government, why would they change!

Myrddin
Myrddin
7 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

At the risk of being accused of over-simplifying the solution:
The motivation for this corruption is greed, pure and simple. To massively reduce the rot, the Qatari government should just blacklist any agency, and its associated manager, until they repair their operation. If the grubby money dries up for them they will have little choice but to sort the situation, and that includes their respective governments.

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago
Reply to  Myrddin

How difficult do you think it would be for the agencies to simply change their name and / or licence? Only the home countries can take any steps to effectively address this issue.

Firas Zirie
7 years ago

My comment seems to have disappeared into the void..!

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago

I think we need more reports and investigations on this issue before we can take action. I think the bar should be set at 389 reports and 29 government reviews because the issues are not clear. Only then can we form a committee to review such reports and recommend actions to the action committee. This committee will carefully study the actions needed and recommend to the approval committee. The approval committee will then commission a report by an international local agency to further study the problems with migrant labour. This agency will report back after two years with recommendations to the first committee.

disqus_ZM5UFScbWq
disqus_ZM5UFScbWq
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

And I’ll add for you – that they will build at least two or three skyscrapers to house the said committees and international local agencies over the twenty year period that it takes the above committees to make their recommendations. The upside is that it will provide some further employment to say another 10,000 migrant workers under the conditions described in the initial report.

K Abdulghani
K Abdulghani
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

Hehehehe……..Some people in Qatar Foundation are trying justify their fat paycheck existence.

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago
Reply to  K Abdulghani

I think they are managers in the Stating the Very Obvious Department

PlanetCitizen
PlanetCitizen
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

Tons of reports can be prepared, but no gains can be made without implementing swift justice for these laborers. Delayed action is a serious human right violations

Big Sumo
Big Sumo
7 years ago

This is not only an issue within construction, the service industry also has this, many of the big hotels are now recruiting from Eastern European countries where these recruitment fees are also rampant. Staff come here already in hundreds of Euro debt because they are told at home it’s very hard to get work here – it’s not hard to get a hotel job here, they are constantly recruiting with high turnover. They come on very low wages and are told of the huge tipping culture which will make up for it all, locals tip in gold, there isn’t a huge tipping culture. Stuck here on 2 or 3 year contracts. There are so many people making money, except the little guy.

The Reporter
The Reporter
7 years ago

And yet another report that tells us exactly what we already know – this time by a government sponsored body. Based on past history the cynical will suggest that it’s been produced to give the impression that Qatar is actually doing something to address the problems. Actions speak louder than words and positive and decisive action seems as far away as ever.

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6 years ago

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