Qatar: Labour law changes 'a sham', says trade union ITUC

Labour law changes announced by the Emir of Qatar add a new layer of repression for migrant workers and leave the kafala sponsorship system intact, according to International Trade Union Confederation. 

Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “Promises of reform have been used as a smokescreen to draw in companies and governments to do business in Qatar as the Gulf state rolls out massive infrastructure developments to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.” 

The ITUC said in a statement that the new labour law does not abolish exit permits, and workers still have to get their employers’ permission to leave the country. It said migrant workers do not have the right to join a union while domestic workers remain wholly excluded from the labour law.

Under the new proposals approved by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, which will be introduced in 2017, workers will be able to leave the country after giving at least three days' notice to the interior ministry.

Officials will then contact the employer or sponsor for approval.

In addition, workers will be allowed to change jobs at the end of a contract, without the consent of their bosses.

Qatar had announced earlier this year that it was committed to reform of the "kafala" system, which has been the object of scorn from rights groups ever since the country was awarded the right to host the football World Cup in 2022.

But Burrow said: “International companies doing business in Qatar can no longer be lured by Qatar’s promises of reform. The threat to the reputation of international companies using an enslaved migrant workforce in Qatar has increased with the Governments sham reforms.”

She said a meeting of the International Labour Organisation’s Governing Body meeting in Geneva in November will consider a Commission of Inquiry into abuse of migrant workers in Qatar putting governments and companies under increasing pressure to protect migrant workers in Qatar.

The investigation would look at Qatar’s failure to act on ILO findings that it is violating both the ILO’s forced labour convention and labour inspection convention and have wide ranging implications for companies doing business in Qatar.

“The tragedy of 1.7 million migrant workers trapped in Qatar defines modern day slavery and the denial of trade union rights for workers in the Gulf states. Qatar continues not only to deny workers their rights, but to obscure and ignore the deaths of migrant workers building the 2022 World Cup infrastructure,” said Burrow.

New census data released by the Government of Qatar last week shows the population has increased by 40 percent since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010 including 700,000 more migrant workers.

"More than 7,000 workers will die in Qatar before the start of the 2022 World Cup, based on data from the Qatar Supreme Council for Health on death rates of migrant workers of working age which reveal an annual death toll of over 1,000 migrant workers,” added Burrow.

“Qatar has to stop covering up its treatment of migrant workers, and governments and business need to end their complicity with modern slavery. Qatar’s migrant worker population is set to peak by 2017, to deliver the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.  Only by ending the kafala system now, giving workers the right to freedom of association, can we ensure migrant workers in Qatar have a safe and secure future,” said Burrow.