International unions challenge Qatar’s labour practices

by  — 6 February 2013

International labour unions have recently lodged a new case with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) presenting evidence on the use of forced labour in Qatar.

With only 300,000 Qatari nationals, 1.2 million migrant workers are needed for the country’s infrastructure boom, and are reported to be forced into unsafe conditions and low wages. This is the first time the term ‘forced labour’ has been used to define working conditions in Qatar in a case to the ILO. International Trade Union Confederation 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. “Employers have near total control over workers. 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 multi-national companies tendering for these contracts on notice to abide by international law and respect workers’ rights,” said Burrow. The labour relations department of the Ministry of Labour in Qatar received 6000 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. A committee was set up by the government last year to look at the sponsorship rules, but has not responded to the growing number of sponsorship abuses. Once the response is received, the ILO will establish a tripartite committee to review the evidence,  and make recommendations to the government of Qatar.

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