Qatar work-visa system allows for 'forced' labour

The Labour Relations Department of the Ministry of Labour in Qatar received 6,000 worker complaints last year.

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International unions have lodged a new case with the International Labour Organisation citing the use of "forced labour" in Qatar.

With only 300,000 Qatari nationals, 1.2m migrant workers are needed for the country’s infrastructure build-up ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

This is the first time forced labour has been used to define working conditions in Qatar in a case to the ILO.

The representation has been lodged jointly by the International Trade Union Federation (ITUC) and Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI).

It features seven individual cases from hundreds that have been reported to the ITUC.

ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said the visa sponsorship system in Qatar allows the exaction of forced labour by making it difficult for a migrant worker to leave an abusive employer or travel overseas without permission.

“Under Qatari law, employers have near total control over workers. They alone choose if a worker can change jobs, leave the country or stay in Qatar," said Burrow.

“In the next few months, the contracts for the new World Cup stadia and infrastructure will be announced. Millions more workers will be hired from overseas for the road, rail and building infrastructure for the World Cup.

“We are putting multinational companies tendering for these contracts on notice to abide by international law and respect workers’ rights,” warned Burrow.

The Labour Relations Department of the Ministry of Labour in Qatar received 6,000 worker complaints last year.

According to local media reports, the top concerns facing workers included employers not fulfilling obligations under the visa sponsorship system, including refusal to give end-of-service benefits, and also delays in paying wages. In some cases, workers are not paid at all.

“Many workers suffer exploitation for fear of retaliation. The government must put their 150 labour inspectors to work and make the complaints process accessible to the majority of workers, many of whom do not speak English or Arabic,” said BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson.

Once received, the ILO will establish a tripartite committee to review the evidence and make recommendations to the government of Qatar on how to comply with its international commitments.

The ITUC points to six practices that violate workers’ rights:

  • False promises on the nature and type of work by recruiters and sponsors;
  • Employer obligations on wages and working conditions not met;
  • Contracts entered into prior to departure not respected in Qatar;
  • Workers indebted to recruiters or moneylenders who extract high fees;
  • Passports withheld by employers; and
  • Workers forced to live in squalid overcrowded labour camp.