x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Qatar to act on expat workers’ rights

Amid heightened criticism of the treatment of its migrant workers, Qatar's committee charged with the 2022 World Cup confirms it will double its number of labour inspectors by the end of the year. Gary Meenaghan reports

Shortly after Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, travelled to Doha to meet the new emir of Qatar and broach the subject of migrant workers, the country confirmed plans to double the number of labour inspectors. Amnesty International via EPA
Shortly after Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, travelled to Doha to meet the new emir of Qatar and broach the subject of migrant workers, the country confirmed plans to double the number of labour inspectors. Amnesty International via EPA

DUBAI // Less than a week after Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, travelled to Doha to meet the new emir of Qatar and broach the subject of migrant workers, the country confirmed plans to double the number of labour inspectors by the end of this year.

Several reports in recent months have highlighted allegations by human-rights groups that labourers employed to work on World Cup 2022 projects have been abused, had passports confiscated and salaries denied. Under the country’s kafala system, expatriates are not allowed to leave Qatar without their employer’s approval.

Most recently, Amnesty International urged Qatar to better enforce labour regulations amid widespread and routine abuse of migrant workers.

In a report issued on Sunday, the human-rights group said some mistreated workers were employed by subcontractors for state-owned Qatar Petroleum, South Korea’s Hyundai Engineering & Construction Company and Spain’s OHL Construcción.

Amnesty also said some workers in Qatar were not paid wages, were subject to harsh and dangerous working conditions and shocking standards of accommodation.

The issue of workers rights was discussed during Mr Blatter’s meeting last week with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and a delegation of the Qatar 2022 supreme committee. The Fifa president said afterwards that “laws will be amended and special attention will be paid also to inspections of the workers’ accommodation”.

Nasser Al Khater, a member of the supreme committee, said while the laws do need to be analysed, the main challenge is to ensure companies abide by the rules.

“The ministry of labour has realised that one of the biggest challenges is enforcement,” Mr Al Khater said. “There are some issues in terms of legislation that they are looking at, but the bulk of the issue comes from enforcement. So, one of the improvements is to double the number of inspectors by the end of the year.”

Another need is to ensure translators are available so that workers – the majority of whom do not speak Arabic – are able to submit complaints.

Mr Al Khater also suggested the creation of a workers’ welfare task force, with aims to develop a strategy to improve accommodation of labourers, as well as entertainment options, transportation and general welfare.

Labour rights in Qatar are drawn from standards set by the International Labour Organisation, with additional guidelines taken from the oil and gas industry, he said.

The law, Mr Khater said, “is rigorous and, if implemented correctly, quite good”.

He said he expected changes to be noticed soon and said any delay was because of the rapid pace of the country’s growth.

“I don’t like to use the word reform,” he said. “I see it as a linear path rather than as reform. Qatar is a young country and is on an accelerated path of development. If you look at it economically, it is not dissimilar from the UAE and population-wise it is exploding – one of the fastest rates in the world.

“So you need to make sure your legislation catches up and works in tandem. The government, though, are taking this matter very seriously, and so are we at the 2022 supreme committee. I think it will be very soon that tangible benefits are seen.”

Foreign workers make up 88 per cent of Qatar’s population of two million, the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world, Francois Crepeau, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, said in a report last week.

The country plans to build nine new stadiums, a US$35 billion (Dh128.45bn) metro and rail system, new motorways and a city for 200,000 people before hosting the World Cup. The country relies largely on South Asians to work on construction sites.

About 400,000 Nepalis work in the country, according to embassy data.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae