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Qatar workers’ welfare: ‘Reforms made but challenges remain’

Reforms have improved working and living conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers, ILO says in a new report.

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and its human rights record have been under the spotlight since it was awarded the hosting of football’s 2022 FIFA World Cup [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Qatar has made progress in its labour reforms but challenges in their implementation remain, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has said in a new report released 19 days before the start of the World Cup.

The report published on Tuesday details progress made since technical cooperation between the United Nations’ labour agency and the Qatari government started in April 2018.

It said reforms have improved the working and living conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers – estimated to form 85 percent of Qatar’s population – though additional efforts are needed to ensure that all workers can benefit.

“We’ve been on a long journey with Qatar – and the reforms and the cooperation with the international community are indeed significant for the region,” Ruba Jaradat, ILO regional director for the Arab States, said in a statement.

“We all recognize that we are not yet at the finish line, and we will build on this solid foundation to address the gaps in implementation, and ensure that all workers and employers can fully benefit from these major reforms.”

Spotlight on Qatar

Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and its human rights record have been under the spotlight since it was awarded the hosting of football’s 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Previously, the Gulf state required workers to get their employer’s permission to change jobs. In August 2020, Qatar announced changes to the labour law, including scrapping the need for a no-objection certificate (NOC) to change employment.

The announcement was the latest in a series of labour reforms which it said were part of a process launched before it was awarded the World Cup.

The ILO, in the report, added that Qatar’s labour ministry has approved about 350,000 applications by migrant workers to change jobs in the two years since these reforms were introduced.

The report added that many workers still face hurdles in leaving jobs and moving to new ones, including retaliation from their employers.

Workers have also told Al Jazeera of the difficulties in switching jobs, from cancellation of residency permits and threats of deportation by private sponsors and false absconding cases registered against them.

In March last year, Qatar became the first country in the Gulf to adopt a minimum wage that applies to all workers.

The new legislation ensured all employees receive a minimum monthly wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275), as well as a minimum allowance of 300 riyals for food and 500 riyals for housing, unless their employer provides both.

ILO said 280,000 people saw their salaries rise to the new minimum threshold – termed inadequate by workers and rights groups – since the new legislation was introduced.

Last month, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said his country faced an “unprecedented campaign” of criticism in the lead-up to the World Cup.

“Since we won the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced,” Sheikh Tamim said in a speech. “We initially dealt with the matter in good faith, and even considered that some criticism was positive and useful, helping us to develop aspects of ours that need to be developed.

“But it soon became clear to us that the campaign continues, expands and includes fabrication and double standards, until it reached a level of ferocity that made many question, unfortunately, about the real reasons and motives behind this campaign.”

Source: Al Jazeera