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Posted On: 12 October 2013 11:07 am
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:13 pm

Union says Qatar labourers suffer 'climate of fear'

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A delegation from an international labour federation has completed its inspection of migrant workers in Qatar, saying immediate "bolder" steps are need to protect labourers. "Bolder steps are needed now, not in the future," said a statement by the Building and Wood Worker's International (BWI) federation. Among its recommendations are that Qatar should prohibit employers from confiscating passports and banning illegal recruitment fees and should abolish its kafala system of sponsorship-based employment and the exit visa system that gives employers unchecked power to stop workers from leaving the country. It also called for the Gulf state to establish an effective dispute system or labour court to address complaints by migrant workers related to employment contracts, back wages, and other labour disputes. The delegation also recommended imposing "meaningful sanctions" on companies and individuals who violate laws designed to protect migrant workers’ rights. In a statement, the BWI said: “While there are workplaces that are better off, it does not imply that the situation is the same in the whole country. "The evidence gathered and complaints forwarded to us indicate that the decent work deficit remains widespread and a climate of fear persists. "One worker in a slave-like situation is one too many. This is not acceptable and the plans and reforms presented by the authorities lack the urgency needed in this situation." Qatar is embarking on a multi-billion-dollar construction programme to prepare to host the 2022 football World Cup. The delegation met with many young men from Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Philippines who have found that their dreams of improving their lives and for their families have been shattered by the harsh realities of their living and working conditions in Qatar. In some cases, many have wished they never left their home country due to the “sufferings” in Qatar, the BWI said. It added that workers have found that promises made by the employers regarding wages, work hours and working and living conditions are not met. "Their freedom of movement is severely limited with the withholding of passports and restrictions of where they can go. They are in constant debt to recruiters and moneylenders. They are forced to live in crowded, squalid camps. These workers have no constructive mechanism for filing labour disputes and complaints due to the complexity of the judicial system in Qatar." the statement said. BWI said the delegation saw good working conditions in the Sidra hospital project of the Spanish firm OHL and at the Norwegian project Qatalum with both firms having concrete policies and practices on workers protection. In meetings with Qatari authorities, the delegation was briefed about the 'Workers’ Charter' of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, the body responsible for the delivery of the FIFA World Cup. But the BWI said it concluded that in the absence of real rights and legal protections that meet international standards, migrant workers in Qatar will be no more protected by these charters than they are under current Qatari law. It added that “the current measures are insufficient to address the overarching structural problems. What is needed is to make their plans erase the exploitative situation that thousands of workers face. Bolder steps are needed now, not in the future". Ambet Yuson, BWI general secretary, added: “Dialogue is not only the exchange of information. Its essence is problem-solving and we are here to contribute in curbing the abuses that has been reported globally by many media outlets, trade unions, and human rights organisations. We will be relentless in pushing for a new reality in Qatar.” The 18-member team concluded its four-day mission in the gas-rich state on Thursday. On Tuesday, a leading Qatari minister hit out at reports in the UK press criticising the conditions of foreign labourer working on infrastructure for the FIFA 2022 World Cup and dismissed claims thousands of workers will die as “malicious propaganda”. “If some foreign media maligns the image of Qatar and spreads malicious propaganda, it is like crossing the red line. So there is a need to investigate and bring the truth before the world,” Hussain Al Mulla, an undersecretary at the labour and social affairs ministry, was quoted as saying by The Peninsula newspaper.