UN clears Qatar over treatment of migrant workers

Trade unions urge Gulf nations to follow Qatar’s lead as UN’s ILO dismisses complaints over foreign labour treatment.

The UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) has dismissed complaints about the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar and welcomed the nation’s commitment to improve their plight.

The rights body announced on Wednesday its decision to not follow up on earlier complaints about the treatment of foreign labour in the Gulf nation. 

As part of a new draft bill, Qatar announced plans to introduce a minimum wage and allow the monitoring of labour practices by trained inspectors last month. 

Issa Saad al-Nuaimi, Qatar’s labour minister, said that a support fund would ensure overdue wages were paid to workers.


“The ILO welcomes the commitment of Qatar to engage in substantive cooperation with the organisation for the promotion and protection of workers’ rights, and looks forward to the successful implementation of the cooperation programme over the next three years,” ILO Director General Guy Ryder said.

In reviewing complaints lodged in 2014 over Qatar’s failure to maintain a legal framework sufficient to protect the rights of the migrant workers, ILO welcomed the “positive change” in the country. 

“The transformation of this complaint into a real commitment by the government of Qatar to make positive change on the ground for all workers is a very encouraging development,” said Luc Cortebeeck, chairperson of ILO’s Governing Body. 

“We celebrate this moment for Qatar and its two million migrant workers,” he added.

‘Historic day’

Qatar has come under scrutiny for its treatment of foreign workers from countries such as India, Nepal and Bangladesh, as it is in the process of building new infrastructure in the run-up to hosting the 2022 football World Cup.

To provide legal protection to workers, Qatar has signed 36 bilateral agreements with countries from which it draws most of its foreign workforce.

Labour minister Nuaimi welcomed ILO’s decision to cancel the complaints. 

“This [decision] clearly states the degree to which Qatar is committed to the international labour standards,” he told Al Jazeera. “It also proves how Qatar is caring for labour and their rights.”

Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from the Swiss city of Geneva, said Wednesday’s development was a “major breakthrough in the region”.

“Much of these countries particularly in the GCC depend heavily on the work and the essentially the blood, sweat and tears of millions of workers,” he said.

Last year, the Qatari government introduced a new labour law aimed at making it easier for migrant workers to change jobs and leave the country.

The law was implemented to ease the requirements of the work sponsorship system, known as Kafala, which currently requires all foreign workers to obtain their employer’s consent to travel abroad or switch jobs.

General-Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharan Burrow, who was one of the most vocal critics of Qatar’s policies over the past few years, urged other Gulf nations, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) “to follow the lead of Qatar”. 

“This is a historic day,” she told Al Jazeera. “We look forward to a world cup now with worker’s rights we can all support.”  

‘Still vulnerable’

In response to ILO’s announcement, rights group Humanity United stressed that migrant workers in Qatar were still vulnerable to exploitation, and that the ILO should keep watching over their plight.

“Despite the decision close the complaint against Qatar, migrant workers are still vulnerable to forced labor and exploitation because of legal and social structures,” Rola Abimourched, manager of investments at Humanity United, said in a statement.

“We believe no real improvement can happen for these workers until the Qatari government removes restrictions on workers’ mobility, improves complaints mechanisms and ensures workers do not face retaliation for reporting violations, and protects all workers, including those not covered by the labor law, such as domestic workers.

“The technical cooperation agreement between the ILO and the Qatari government is encouraging, but there will be no progress for workers until these promises are turned into actions,” she added.

Abimourched urged the ILO, its governing body, and key member states to monitor the situation in Qatar “to ensure that the government fully implements the reforms it has committed to and takes additional steps to protect all workers”.

There are an estimated two million migrant workers in Qatar. The majority hail from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. 

Source: Al Jazeera