Trade unionists protest Qatar's safety record and rights abuses outside the London Qatari Embassy.
Qatar: one of the terrible ten worst countries for workers’ rights
As a Gulf State with its infamous kafala system, Qatar can be a living hell for migrant labourers, excluded from labour law and under a forced labour system akin to a modern slavery. Once in Qatar, migrant workers can have their passports seized, their contracts torn up and be forced to work for wages less than a third than what was offered. Worksites are often dangerous, including those preparing the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup, and workers can be arrested and detained for long periods for speaking out.
Around 100 striking migrant workers arrested: Around 800 construction workers employed by two subcontracting companies – Qatar Freelance Trading and Contracting as well as Qatar Middle East Co. – went on strike in November 2014 in protest against breaches of employment contracts and against poverty wages. The workers had signed contracts before leaving their home countries for Qatar; on arrival in Doha their passports were confiscated and contracts torn up. They were then forced to work for wages one-third lower than promised.
Witnesses have reported that a supervisor attacked workers with a plastic pipe when police arrived to start the arrests, and those arrested are believed to be heading for the notorious Doha Detention Centre where migrant workers are often held incommunicado for long periods before eventual deportation.
Exclusion of migrant workers: Today, migrant workers comprise roughly 94% of Qatar’s workforce, equal to about 1.2 million workers. That figure continues to rise, as workers are recruited in vast numbers, largely from South Asia, to build infrastructure and stadia for the 2022 World Cup. Like many other migrant workers in the Gulf region, they face severe, discriminatory policies and practices that violate their fundamental human and labour rights, including the right to freedom of association. Even Qatari nationals have only limited rights in this regard. Numerous workers are precluded from forming or joining a union due to categorical exclusions in law. In practice, 90% of the total workforce is excluded from the right to form or join a union.
While laws design to strip workers of rights and keep them in their place are enforced, the impact of those scant protections for workers in Qatar’s legal system is harder to trace. Passport confiscation, excessive working hours, late payment of wages and overcrowded living quarters all contravene local laws, and yet prosecution is almost unheard of. Workers who try to access justice via the courts find language and financial barriers often insurmountable, with long delays forcing workers to rely on charity to survive and leaving them vulnerable to retribution from angry employers who find it far easier to exploit the legal system to exact revenge.
The Terrible Ten:
At the ILO conference earlier this month, the International Trade Union Confederation launched its 2015 Global Rights Index, detailing the ten worst countries for workers’ rights abuses in the world, and reporting in detail violations in those and many more. Stronger Unions is profiling one of the terrible ten each day.