ILO extends probe into forced labour of migrant workers in Qatar

The ITUC has welcomed a decision by the International Labour Organisation to maintain pressure on Qatar over its ’kafala’ system of modern slavery.

The ILO’s Governing Body decided to keep open the possibility of a Commission of Inquiry into Qatar despite the Gulf state’s unprecedented deployment of dozens of lobbyists at the Geneva meeting aiming to shut down any possibility of the UN body’s strongest compliance procedure being applied.

Worker delegates at the ILO, with the support of representatives of employers and governments of democratic countries, refused an attempt by Sudan and the United Arab Emirates to water down the Governing Body’s decision, denying Qatar a propaganda coup.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said "Qatar is on notice and has until November when the ILO will revisit this case. The government has refused any serious reform in the years since it was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and ILO delegates have rejected the false and misleading claims made by Qatar in its report to the ILO this month. There is still hope for the more than 2 million migrant workers in Qatar, many of them trapped their and forced to work against their will.

“Governments, unions and business can see that Qatar has a choice. It can choose to stop the use of modern slavery and meet its international legal obligations on workers rights by, abolishing exit permits, introducing a minimum wage and ending the race based system of wages, establishing an independent grievance procedure and allowing workers representation.

“International businesses working in Qatar don’t want to see their workers or their reputation sullied by modern slavery."

Foreign workers still need to get permission from their boss to change jobs or leave the country under the notorious exit permit system. A government committee which is supposed to resolve permit grievances has denied exit to scores of workers since it was formed at the end of 2016. Around a quarter of those appealing to the committee have received rejections from the authorities, by text message. There is still no minimum wage, worker deaths number in the hundreds each year even as Qatar suppresses publication of the true rates of accidents and disease, and the total ban on trade unions remains in force.

"This decision will also increase pressure on FIFA, which has pledged human rights respect in its major events after 2022, but so far failed to use its enormous leverage on Qatar to ensure real reform, and respect for international labour and human rights standards," said Burrow.

The ILO’s decision on Qatar’s progress on labour reform in November will come five years before the opening match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.