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Qatar says committed to workers rights after HRW report

Qatar has said it is committed to workers' rights [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 August, 2020

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Human Rights Watch on Monday published a report accusing Qatar of failing to pay migrant workers, prompting Doha to strongly reject the 'misleading' claims.

Qatar has rejected a new Human Rights Watch report that accused the Gulf state of failing to pay migrant workers and insisted it is committed to widespread reforms ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Doha on Tuesday hit back at the HRW report saying it was designed to "intentionally mislead public opinion while performing a disservice to those they claim to be assisting".

"The current report contains repeated inaccuracies around policies and does not reflect the current situation in Qatar. Nearly all individuals who come to Qatar for employment never experience any form of wage abuse," an official ministry statement said.

However, authorities in Qatar admitted there are incidents where workers had gone unpaid.

"There are a few, isolated, instances where workers experience this issue. These cases have declined as laws and regulations have driven fundamental and lasting change," it read.

The official statement was released a day after the rights organisation published a damning report accusing Qatar of allegedly failing to meet its 2017 commitments to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

These included agreeing to protect migrant workers from wage abuses and to abolish the controversial kafala system, which ties migrant workers' visas to their employers. 

"Ten years since Qatar won the right to host the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup 2022, migrant workers are still facing delayed, unpaid, and deducted wages," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

"We have heard of workers starving due to delayed wages, indebted workers toiling in Qatar only to get underpaid wages, and workers trapped in abusive working conditions due to fear of retaliation."

HRW said it had interviewed some 93 migrant workers employed in more than 60 companies or by individual employers, including as security guards, servers, baristas, bouncers, cleaners, management staff, and construction workers. 

The report stated: "Fifty-nine workers said their wages had been delayed, withheld, or not paid; 9 workers said they had not been paid because employers said they didn't have enough clients; 55 said they weren't paid for overtime even though they worked more than 10 hours a day; and 13 said their employers had replaced their original employment contract with one favoring employers."

Doha responded to the claims on Tuesday saying it would be open to "work collaboratively with Human Rights Watch when they have issues related to wage abuse or any other employment concern, as we do with other NGOs".

The statement also confirmed that authorities were implementing some of the recommendations put forward in the HRW report even prior to it being released on Monday.

"This includes laws that remove No-Objection Certificates and the introduction of a minimum wage – the first of its kind in the Middle East. Currently, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization, upgrades are being made to the Wage Protection System and the Workers' Support and Insurance Fund," the statement read.

"Qatar's labour programme protects all workers in all stages of their employment cycle. The success of our approach is evident in the achievements we have made to date and the positive impact it is having on hundreds of thousands of workers and those reliant on their income," the statement concluded.

Qatar, like other Gulf Arab states, rely on a vast population of foreign workers for jobs ranging from domestic help, construction work, to white-collar jobs.

Some 35 million labourers work in the six GCC states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Jordan and Lebanon, according to UN figures.

Almost 90 percent of Qatar's population are expatriate workers as the country completes dozens of mega-projects ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Read also: Comment: Can Gulf countries survive without their foreign workers post-pandemic?

In May, migrant labourers staged a rare protest in Qatar over unpaid wages, at a time of economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and rock-bottom oil prices.

Images on social media showed more than 100 men blocking a main road in the Msheireb district of the capital Doha, clapping and chanting as police looked on.

"In response to the late settlement of salaries, a small number of expatriate workers conducted a peaceful protest in the Msheireb area on May 22," the labour ministry said in a statement.

"Following an immediate investigation (the ministry) has taken steps to ensure that all salaries will be promptly paid in the coming days," the statement said at the time.

Qatar confirmed it took legal action against the companies involved in non-payment of salaries, although the results remain unknown.

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