This is the first time forced labour has been used to define working conditions in Qatar in a case to the ILO. The representation has been lodged jointly by the ITUC and the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) and features seven individual cases from hundreds which have been reported to the ITUC.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said the visa sponsorship system in Qatar allows the exaction of forced labour by making it difficult for a migrant worker to leave an abusive employer or travel overseas without permission.
“Under Qatari law, employers have near total control over workers. They alone choose if a worker can change jobs, leave the country or stay in Qatar.
“In the next few months the contracts for the new World Cup stadia and infrastructure will be announced. Millions more workers will be hired from overseas for the road, rail and building infrastructure for the World Cup.
“We are putting multi-national companies tendering for these contracts on notice to abide by international law and respect workers’ rights,” said Sharan Burrow.
The Labour Relations Department of the Ministry of Labour in Qatar received 6000 worker complaints last year. According to local media reports, the top concerns facing workers included employers not fulfilling obligations under the visa sponsorship system including refusal to give end-of-service benefits, and also delays in paying wages. In some cases, workers are not paid at all.
“Many workers suffer exploitation for fear of retaliation. The Government must put their 150 labour inspectors to work and make the complaints process accessible to the majority of workers, many of whom don’t speak English or Arabic,” said Ambet Yuson, General Secretary, Building and Wood Workers International.
A committee was set up by the Government last year to look at the sponsorship rules, among the most restrictive in Gulf countries, but has not responded to the growing number of sponsorship abuses.
Once received, the ILO will establish a tripartite committee to review the evidence and make recommendations to the Government of Qatar on how to comply with its international commitments.
The ITUC points to six practices that violate workers’ rights including:
false promises on the nature and type of work by recruiters and sponsors
employer obligations on wages and working conditions not met
contracts entered into prior to departure not respected in Qatar
workers indebted to recruiters or moneylenders who extract high fees
passports withheld by employers
workers forced to live in squalid overcrowded labour camps
Last month the ITUC intervened to the Qatari Minister of Labour in the case of one worker caught in the sponsorship trap. Watch the case of Benjamin Cruz featured on Equal Times: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDu4VJWgjN4.