Browsing 'workers' News

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Workers walk along a street in Doha

After three years, the US has taken Qatar off of its “watch list” when it comes to human trafficking issues.

Qatar is now considered a Tier 2 country, according to the US State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Person’s Report.

The annual rankings assess how nations around the world are dealing with human trafficking abuses.

Impactt

World Cup project workers

Qatar has made “increasing efforts” to eliminate human trafficking over the past year, the report stated.

In comparison, neighboring Saudi Arabia remains on the watch list, along with Kuwait and Oman. Meanwhile, the UAE and Bahrain hold the same Tier 2 designation as Qatar.

Strides made

According to the report, Qatar made a number of significant improvements in the past year.

More than a dozen men wait to use the ATMs at City Center Mall.

Shabina S. Khatri

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These included kafala reforms and the introduction of the Wage Protection System (WPS), which ensures that workers are paid their salaries electronically.

Te report also said that Qatar had made “substantial progress” toward implementing a new electronic contracting system, and in introducing new labor dispute panels to accelerate resolution of labor-related legal cases.

Qatar has also apparently increased its conviction rate for trafficking-related offenses.

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Despite these improvements, the report also pointed out areas where Qatar had not met the standard required.

These included:

  • Not prosecuting any Qatari employers or recruitment agencies for forced labor;
  • Often not investigating trafficking cases that involved passport retention, labor violations, and complaints of abuse;
  • Arresting, detaining and deporting potential trafficking victims for immigration violations or for fleeing their employers or sponsors;
  • Not providing data on the number of victims it identified or assisted, and not holding complicit officials criminally accountable.

And even though there are legal systems in place to make complaints, victims are often not protected against retribution from their employers, the report said, adding:

“Victims who lodged complaints were sometimes the subject of spurious counter-charges by their respective employers that resulted in administrative deportation proceedings.

While more than 4,000 victims filed official complaints against their employers for restitution of wages during the year, domestic workers— who were not covered under the labor law—continued to face difficulties seeking legal redress for abuses through civil court action.”

Often, the only choices victims had were to change employers or go home, the report said.

Recommendations

If Qatar wants to move up to the top level, Tier 1, it would need to put several measures in place to prevent trafficking.

One recommendation included continuing to implement reforms to the sponsorship system “so it does not provide excessive power to sponsors or employers in granting and maintaining the legal status of migrant workers,” the report said.

Penny Yi Wang

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Qatar should also quickly implement the new domestic worker law that has been in the works, as well as extend the labor law to this category of people.

What is trafficking?

The annual report assesses anti-trafficking efforts made by 188 countries globally between April 2016 and March 2017, and ranks them in one of four tiers.

It describes trafficking as “the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.”

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This includes sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, debt bondage, forced labor, domestic servitude, forced child labor and the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Overall, some 21 countries were downgraded from last year, including China, which could now face sanctions for not taking “serious action” to stop forced North Korean labor.

And 27 were upgraded, including Qatar, Afghanistan, Iraq and Malaysia.

You can read the full State Department report here.

Thoughts?

Reem Saad / Doha News

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Employers in Qatar must heed special working hours for outdoor employees starting June 15 – or face the consequences, the nation’s labor ministry has announced.

From June 15 to Aug. 31, work must stop on construction sites and other outdoor areas from 11:30am to 3pm, when the sun is at its peak.

Revised schedules should be posted in a place where all employees can see it, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs said this week.

Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

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Companies that fall to follow special working hours can be closed for up to one month, it added.

Heat relief

Since summer set in weeks ago, some companies have already starting observing revised work hours to keep their employees in good health.

But the special schedule is likely to come as a relief to many who are continuing to toil outside in Qatar’s 40C+ heat.

Reem Saad / Doha News

Ramadan iftar tent

Ramadan also coincides with the hot season, making it harder for many laborers to make it through the day.

Islamic scholars have exempted these employees from fasting. But last year, some construction workers said they were choosing to fast anyway.

Many cited their faith in God and a desire to help their families as their main motivations to keep working.

Thoughts?

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As Qatar celebrates the opening of its first World Cup stadium today, rights group Amnesty International is warning officials to proceed with caution.

The group had uncovered human rights violations by contractors involved in Khalifa International Stadium renovations last year.

At the time, it stated that more than 100 expats had their passports confiscated and salary payments delayed.

Construction workers at the Khalifa Stadium

Peter Kovessy / Doha News

Khalifa Stadium renovations for illustrative purposes only.

A year later, an independent audit commissioned by World Cup organizers found many contractors are continuing to work their staff too hard.

For its part, tournament organizers said at the time that “while the findings clearly state there are challenges, they also demonstrate our continued commitment to this process. We will do everything necessary to ensure the issues identified are dealt with promptly.”

‘Urgent rethink’ needed

But in a statement yesterday, Amnesty urged more drastic action, raising the issue of Qatar’s restrictive labor laws.

James Lynch, deputy director of Amnesty’s Global Issues program, said:

“Migrant workers at Khalifa International Stadium have already suffered the consequences of Qatar and FIFA’s failure to genuinely address the dangers of Qatar’s sponsorship system.

An urgent rethink is needed to prevent labour abuse becoming the legacy of the 2022 World Cup.”

Currently, about 10,000 people are working on World Cup projects in Qatar. That number is expected to surge to a peak of 36,000 workers by next year.

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Notably, this is just a fraction of Qatar’s labor force, and many of these employees have far more favorable working and living conditions than their peers who work for smaller companies.

However, authorities are under pressure to ensure the rights of all workers in the run-up to 2022.

Deaths

One litmus test for proper working and living conditions has been the fatality rate of World Cup employees.

So far, two people have died while working on stadium sites, including a British man who fell to his death at Khalifa Stadium.

However, earlier this month an Indian carpenter died of a heart attack he suffered shortly after leaving the stadium site, Reuters reports.

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He is at least the fourth World Cup employee to have died of cardiac arrest in the past year and a half, the newswire states.

More should be done to find out whether these deaths are related to working conditions, rights groups have argued.

Speaking to Reuters yesterday, Gulf labor researcher Mustafa Qadri said:

“Workers dying suddenly from heart attacks is something we hear about often, the causes are not always clear.

But we’re moving now into the hottest time of the year when the risk of fatality increases. When a worker dies, Qatar needs to get to the bottom of what happened. People’s lives are in danger.”

Thoughts?