March 23, 2017 / 12:44 PM / 4 months ago

Qatar given deadline to end abuse of migrant workers or face investigation

3 Min Read

Migrant labourers work at a construction site at Aspire Zone in Doha, Qatar, March 26, 2016.Naseem Zeitoon/Files

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Qatar has until November to implement new labour reforms designed to end abuse of migrant workers or potentially face an investigation by an international labour watchdog in the lead up to hosting the 2022 World Cup.

The United Nation's International Labour Organization (ILO) said it was deferring until November a decision on whether to investigate the Gulf state for forced labour violations involving migrant workers.

Around 90 percent of the Arab state's 2.5 million population are migrant workers from countries including India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Many are in low-paid construction jobs to build stadiums and infrastructure ahead of the 2022 Fifa World Cup.

But Doha has come under criticism in recent years, with activists and trade unions reporting abuses such as squalid living conditions, poor health and safety standards, and migrants having their pay withheld and passports confiscated.

The ILO said late on Tuesday it had noted recent measures by Qatar to improve the plight of migrant workers, but asked the Gulf state to provide further information on labour reforms.

"The Governing Body decides to request the Government of Qatar to continue to provide information ... on further measures to effectively implement (a law) relating to the entry, exit and residence of migrant workers," the ILO said in a report.

The ILO's executive also asked Doha for details on reforms related to domestic workers and the status of committees to resolve workers' disputes by its next meeting in November - when it will decide whether to appoint a commission to probe abuses.

Qatari embassy officials in Delhi were not immediately available for comment on the ILO decision.

The wealthy gas-rich state's kafala sponsorship system - under which migrant workers cannot change jobs or leave the country without their employer's permission - lies at the heart of allegations of forced labour.

In December, Qatar passed a new law which allows workers who have completed contracts to change jobs freely and imposes fines of businesses who confiscate employees' passports.

But activists say the reforms do not go far enough.

Workers still need their employer's permission to seek alternative employment, during the period of their contract, which can last up to five years.

If they change jobs without this permission they face criminal charges for "absconding" which can lead to their arrest, detention and deportation.Aakar Patel, executive director of Amnesty International India, called on Qatar to show it was making "serious" progress towards ending forced labour.

"This means unequivocally abolishing the exit permit system so that employers have no right to interfere in a migrant worker's ability to leave the country, and amending employment laws so that employers no longer have the power to prevent migrant workers from changing jobs," Patel said.

Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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