Qatar’s new minimum wage law, the latest in a series of recent labour reforms, comes into effect.
Luxury hotel brands in Qatar have failed to protect migrant workers, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, a London-based NGO, saying its annual survey uncovered abuse that “points to forced labour”.
Its report titled “Checked Out: Migrant worker abuse in Qatar’s World Cup luxury hotels” (PDF) published on Wednesday found that migrant workers in the hotels suffer from “extortionate recruitment fees, discrimination and being trapped in a job through fear of reprisal and intimidation”.
The Qatari government said in a reaction that the Gulf country “takes a zero-tolerance approach against violating companies, issuing harsh penalties including prison sentences”.
“Qatar has introduced a raft of major reforms to improve labour standards and protect the rights of all workers. This includes a new national minimum wage, the removal of exit permits, the removal of barriers to prevent workers changing jobs, stricter oversight of recruitment, better accommodation, and improved health and safety standards,” the Government Communications Office (GCO) said in the statement.
To host the World Cup in November 2022, Qatar has massively grown its hotel industry, preparing an additional 26,000 hotel rooms to support the influx of players, supporters and the media.
Migrant workers from East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia make up the vast majority of the workforce in the hospitality sector.
After inviting 19 hotel companies, representing more than 100 global brands with more than 80 properties across Qatar to participate in their survey, the rights group found that there is a “widespread lack of action by hotel brands to prevent and exclude forced labour”.
By engaging with partners to interview workers at hotels the Research Centre approached, their testimonies revealed that eight out of 18 workers reported being charged high recruitment fees for jobs.
A kitchen worker from Kenya told the Business and Human Rights Research Centre: “I paid $1,000 commission to secure the job. I have still not paid up in full the loan… No one has asked or offered to reimburse this cost, everyone is just keeping quiet.”
Only IHG Hotels & Resorts, which owns chains such as InterContinental and Crowne Plaza, provided transparent figures for the number of workers it identified had paid such fees. It was the highest ranked company in the survey and the only hotel group to be awarded a three-star rating out of five. All other brands scored below 50 percent.
Ten out of 18 workers interviewed from Africa or Asia said that pay and position were dependent on nationality, according to the findings.
Subcontracted workers reported receiving “substantially less pay for the same work and were subject to the most serious abuses, including passport confiscation and delayed wages with illegal deductions”.
Workers were not able to freely change jobs despite the landmark reform abolishing the No-Objection Certificate (Kafala system), the report said.
Almost all workers reported being scared to request to change jobs when they saw a better opportunity, some fearing the hotels would have them deported.
In a statement, the Qatari government said it takes seriously all reports of abuse and mistreatment in the country’s labour market.
“Awareness-raising initiatives have been launched to provide workers with information on how to raise complaints against their employer, and new mechanisms have been introduced to facilitate access to justice.”
The Qatari government called on workers to file complaints with the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (ADLSA) through the available channels if they believe a law has been broken, saying most complaints are resolved in a timely manner.
“Addressing the hospitality sector directly, the Ministry of ADLSA has created and distributed a comprehensive employment guide in cooperation with the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to raise awareness of the new laws and ensure their effective implementation,” the GCO statement said.
However, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre in its report said much of the practices uncovered by its survey pointed to conditions of “forced labour” as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
“Our findings should make for troubling reading for the national football teams and one million visitors who are planning a joyful month of sport in Qatar in November 2022, but not at the expense of workers’ misery.
“It should also be a red flag for corporate sponsors of the World Cup. Huge profits are set to be made by the multinational and national hotel brands which will host these visitors.”
The report noted that 11 out of 19 hotel companies had responded to their survey, but several high-profile brands including Best Western, Four Seasons and Millenium & Copthorne did not respond, the centre said.
The Research Centre urged hotel brands to ensure protection of migrant workers by putting all workers at the centre of their due diligence monitoring processes, ensuring workers are free to change jobs and addressing recruitment fees.
The GCO added that “Qatar is committed to making further progress to ensure the labour reforms are effectively enforced. Significant progress has been made, but there is also a responsibility on companies to adjust their practices in line with the new legal requirements.
“With new laws and stricter enforcement measures in place, the government is clamping down on labour abuses, including those in the hospitality sector. Shifting the behaviour of all companies will take time, but Qatar is winning the battle against those who think they can bypass the rules,” the GCO said.