Qatar makes major strides in protecting labour rights
January 07 2015 10:48 PM
 	Work under progress at a major road project (picture for illustrative purpose only)
Work under progress at a major road project (picture for illustrative purpose only)



Qatar has been answering criticism of labour rights violations by a section of the Western media by introducing measures aimed at improving the working and living conditions of its workforce, senior Qatari officials and diplomats have said.

Representatives of several Asian diplomatic missions have opined that the number of complaints registered by workers from their respective countries has come down considerably during the past five years. “More and more employers are showing a keen interest in observing the rules and this is being reflected in the lesser number of complaints being brought to our notice,” the labour attache of an Asian country which sends a large number of workers to Qatar told Gulf Times. He preferred to stay anonymous.

“We still receive complaints but they are a trickle now. When the amended labour law is announced, the situation will improve further as the amendments are expected to address some of the sticking points in the sponsorship system,” a spokesman for another Asian diplomatic mission said.

“The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has streamlined its operations and it has become easier for workers and the diplomatic missions to deal with them,” another diplomat said.

Dr Ali bin Sumaikh al-Marri, Chairman of the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), has commended Qatar on its efforts to protect the rights of expatriate workers through issuing new laws and implementing them strictly.

This, he pointed out, affirms the country’s keenness to improve the work conditions of low income labourers.

Dr al-Marri told a local Arabic daily that the NHRC has realised the great efforts exerted by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOLSA) in this direction. He said MOLSA has lately done a great job regarding the inspection and enforcement of safety standards in respect to workers' accommodation and work environment. He praised the move to abolish the Kafala (Sponsorship) system and replace it with a contractual relationship between the employer and the employee which according to him would protect the rights of both the parties. He stressed the importance of Ministry of Interior (MoI) and MOLSA in actively enforcing the rules that guarantee adequate protection to workers’ rights by adopting a proper mechanism of implementation.

However, he indicated that challenges would be always there, “and the government’s desire to modify the labour law is a step forward to overcome such challenges”. He said that the role of the NHRC was not limited to the protection of human rights, as it has consultative and guiding functions in the country.

The chairman of the rights committee pointed out that Qatar was gaining more experience in protecting human rights and it has done a lot to update its regulations and laws to be in compliance with international standards.

Dr Mohamed bin Saif al-Kuwari, Assistant Undersecretary for Standardisation at the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and a member of NHRC, affirmed that the proposed new rules such as the abolition of the sponsorship system and replacing it by a work contract were aimed at improving the conditions of expatriate workers in the country in accordance with international standards.

“Qatar has taken an important, pioneering and courageous step in the protection of human rights as the legal improvement reflects the seriousness of the government in implementing positive changes,” he said.

He said he was sure the Qatari people would welcome the amended sponsorship rules as and when they are announced “as they always look for the better option and the people themselves are humane by nature”. Dr al-Kuwari indicated that the new system was being introduced at a time when Qatar was implementing the FIFA World Cup 2022 projects. "This in turn would give expatriate workers more sense of security and confidence, leading them to be more productive," he opined.

Recently, the events in Qatar have come under the world’s spotlight, with some reports exaggerating minor and individual cases of violations or abuses by a small number of employers, in particular small subcontracting companies in the construction sector, while ignoring the overall scene and the massive development taking place in the country in all fields.

HE the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Dr Abdullah Saleh Mubarak al- Khulaifi said at a recent event that Qatar was responding to the negative media reports not by words but by practical actions that can be felt and implemented. “These measures included the building of comfortable accommodation for workers, increasing the number of qualified labour inspectors who conducted regular and sudden inspections at worksites as well as workers' accommodations and taking complaints seriously to treat them accordingly.”

He also stressed that the Qatari labour market was open, and it welcomed workers from all over the world to achieve the scheduled development plans of the country, describing expatriate workforce as partners in building the future of the country and a key component of the society. "The protection of their rights is a major priority of the country."

Referring to the criticism in a section of the Western media about rights abuse in Qatar, a Doha-based writer and activist said most of such reports were baseless and not supported by solid research. “I do not say there are no cases of rights violations but what I want to say is that they are not widespread. This country has been doing much to protect the rights of workers and these steps have to be appreciated,” he said.

To support his views, he quoted the words of Philippe Marini, a French senator and president of the senate finance commission who visited Qatar along with two other French Senators last year. “We have a free and independent media and they do not represent the official opinion or views of France. Some of them do not know even what is happening here and report out of nothing. Some also aim to escalate issues and promote hatred, which is not the way of France. But it is a free media,” Marini was quoted by the local media as saying.

According to Marini, what he had seen while in Qatar gave him a very good and positive impression about the country and its efforts in protecting workers’ rights.

Alain Houpert, senator of Cote-d’Or who accompanied Marini, said that some people envied Qatar and Qataris rather than sympathising with them. “People here (in Qatar) are proud of their culture and origin, generous and have a very positive and open attitude towards others.”

Also Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany who visited Qatar along with a German delegation last year said that he had openly discussed the issue of expatriate workers with HE the Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah.

“Major sport events have various consequences, it is not like what it used to be in the past. Any allegation of violation of workers' rights is treated seriously by the Qatari authorities and those who write about what is happening here should come and see it for themselves first,” he commented.

Dr al-Attiyah said at that meeting that Qatar was building a modern country and has a vision beyond the 2022 FIFA World Cup, extending to 2030. “This demands more efforts and we thank all the countries that are taking part in this process by sending their workforce.”

“We are serious about fixing mistakes and this is why we hired an international consultant to study and recommend what could be done to improve worker-employer relations. We have taken measures prior to this to improve the situation and the soon-to-be-issued amended law will lead to further improvements,” stressed Dr al-Attiyah.

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