Browsing 'kafala' News

Reem Saad / Doha News

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A UN agency has granted Qatar even more time to address allegations of “forced labor” before deciding whether the country should be sanctioned.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) decided yesterday to continue monitoring Qatar for human rights violations until November of this year.

When it convenes in eight months time, it will revisit whether to open a Commission of Inquiry, its highest investigative mechanism.

ILO/Facebook

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According to those who attended this week’s meeting, about 18 governments weighed in on the decision.

Some of them, including the UAE and Sudan, two Qatar allies, urged the complaint to be dropped altogether, but were unsuccessful.

Pressure is on

The ILO has been investigating allegations by unions against Qatar since last year, and visited the nation to inspect working conditions for expats.

Last March, the UN agency decided to give Qatar a year to work on the issues at hand, as the country was in the middle of changing its laws.

Shabina S. Khatri / Doha News

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Authorities did implement some labor reforms in December. But they did not completely do away with the exit permit system or no objection certificate requirement to change jobs.

This has drawn the ire of many rights groups, including Amnesty International.

Speaking to Doha News yesterday, James Lynch, deputy director of Amnesty’s Global Issues Program, hailed the ILO’s decision. He said it would keep the pressure on Qatar, as “half-hearted reforms” are not enough.

He continued:

“Since the complaint was first brought in 2014, the government has done little to change the power imbalance between employers and migrant workers.

Between now and November, Qatar needs to tackle the fundamentals. It should start by genuinely abolishing the exit permit system so that employers have no right to interfere in a migrant worker’s ability to leave the country.”

Strides made

For its part, Qatar has not publicly commented on the ILO proceedings.

However, in a document it sent to the UN agency last month, officials outlined various pieces of legislation aimed at safeguarding workers.

Peter Kovessy / Doha News

Residents line up at a bank to open accounts ahead of the start of WPS in 2015.

This includes the new labor reforms, the Wage Protection System (WPS) and a draft law protecting house help.

It also pledged to increase the number of inspectors on construction sites, establish a complaint hotline for abused expats and conduct a study to gain insight into the conditions and sentiments of blue-collar workers in Qatar.

Thoughts?

Alex Gill/Flickr

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Qatar will face the International Labor Organization (ILO) tomorrow to defend itself against allegations of “forced labor.”

The ILO voted to investigate complaints filed by unions last year, and even visited Qatar to inspect working conditions for expats.

The complaint asserted that Qatar “fails to maintain a legal framework sufficient to protect the rights of migrant workers consistent with international law and to enforce the legal protections that currently do exist.”

Shrief Fadl/Flickr

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It also lambasted Qatar’s former kafala sponsorship law, calling it “among the most restrictive in the Gulf region” because it makes it hard to leave an abusive employer.

The ILO had the option to recommend the establishment of a commission of inquiry, its highest investigative mechanism, to take a closer look at the complaints.

But last March, it decided to give Qatar a year to work on the issues, as the country was in the middle of changing its laws.

Kafala changes

Qatar officials submitted a document to the ILO last month, outlining its labor rights progress in recent years.

It highlighted several legislative changes, including Law No. 21 of 2015, which took effect in December.

Qatar called the legislation a “repeal of kafala.”

Craig Sunter/Flickr

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The new sponsorship law does indeed make it easier for expats to leave the country and change jobs.

But foreigners are still required to obtain exit permits from their employers.

And while it is now easier for some people to switch jobs, the no objection certificate requirement has not been abolished.

Instead, only workers on fixed-term contracts can now change jobs after their contract is completed without an NOC.

Those on open-ended contracts must work for five years before being able to do so. And all foreigners would need labor ministry approval before taking up new employment.

Domestic worker rights

The progress report also included information about a draft law on domestic workers, which Qatar’s Cabinet approved last month.

This legislation would provide legal protection to Qatar’s nannies, drivers and cooks by creating a common contract for them.

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Currently, these workers are not required to sign contracts with their employers and cannot file complaints against them with the Ministry of Labor.

According to the document submitted to the ILO, the law would establish a 10-hour workday with periods for rest and food.

It would also mandate one day off a week. However, it is unclear how the law would be enforced, as inspectors are not usually sent to people’s homes to look for labor violations.

What’s next

Rights groups are closely watching this week’s session, and have urged the ILO not to close the complaint against Qatar.

Last week, Amnesty International urged that the process continues. James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty’s Global Issues Program, said in a statement:

“This is a critical juncture for migrant workers in Qatar. The government has made some public commitments in response to ILO pressure, but its claims that it has abolished the sponsorship system simply do not add up.

If the ILO governing body endorses Qatar’s inadequate reforms by dropping this complaint, this could have damaging consequences for migrant rights in Qatar and across the region.”

Thoughts?

MOI/Facebook

Expats seek help with exit permit problems.

Some 500 Qatar residents have sought help from the government after their employers denied them permission to leave the country over the past month.

The country’s Ministry of Interior set up an Exit Permit Grievance Committee in mid-December after new labor reforms took effect.

Since then, it has met almost a dozen times and resolved some 321 cases. That’s about 64 percent of the petitions.

Ministry of Interior/Facebook

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In a statement, the MOI said that 20 exit permits were issued immediately. And another 296 were granted after “friendly coordination” with employers.

But the MOI added that 177 applications had issues that were beyond the scope of the committee.

This included petitions filed by expats who quit their jobs by fleeing their employers (labeled “absconders” under the law) and people who face travel bans.

Flawed system

The government noted that once it got involved, employers were usually willing to grant the exit permits fairly quickly.

However, Qatar has come under fire from rights groups over the past month for not removing its exit permit requirement in the first place.

This was not initially the plan.

Shabina S. Khatri / Doha News

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When it was signed by the Emir, Law No. 21 of 2015 on the entry, exit, and residence of expatriates stated that an automated system would be set up under the MOI to grant “leave certificates” for expats.

However, an amendment to the law was approved this month to keep control of exit permits under one’s employer.

Any expats who have trouble leaving the country can appeal to the new Exit Permit Grievance Committee.

This can be done by visiting a government services complex or a police station.

The committee must respond to requests for an exit permit within 72 hours of a complaint being lodged, although it may be sooner, especially in emergency situations.

Thoughts?