New era of transparency for the ILO and Qatar in support of workers’ rights

The ILO and the government of Qatar have published a new report on health and safety provisions for workers in Qatar, demonstrating a new level of openness and transparency in support of workers’ rights.

The report is a new marker of progress since the introduction of a modern system of industrial relations in Qatar, which includes the following:

  • a non-discriminatory minimum wage for all workers, with 13% of workers in Qatar having received a wage increase since March 2021 – the Minimum Wage Commission will review an evidence-based increase for the minimum wage in 2022;
  • the end to the kafala system, which abolished exit visas and gave 242,870 workers the freedom to change their job without their employer’s permission between 1 October 2020 and 31 October 2021;
  • the labour courts resolving complaints about non-payment of wages and working conditions from unscrupulous employers – this with coverage by a Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund;
  • domestic workers given a standard employment contract and receiving pay slips from their employers; and
  • elected committees of workers, along with joint committees elected in sectors, including hospitality, construction, security, and transport, resolving complaints at workplace level.

“Social dialogue between workers, government and employers is the model that Qatar has followed to establish its labour law reforms. This gives workers the foundation to resolve complaints and sets the standard for industrial relations across the Gulf region. Qatar’s labour laws have passed the scrutiny test by international unions.

“One year ahead of the World Cup in Qatar, employers are now being put to the test to follow the laws that protect workers’ rights in Qatar. Abuses of workers’ rights can now be resolved through dialogue with the Ministry of Labour or through the labour courts. There is nowhere for unscrupulous employers to hide,” said Sharan Burrow.

Legislation to protect workers from heat stress in May 2021, which extended the prohibited working hours, and the world’s largest study into heat stress, conducted in 2019, have given a legislative and evidence base to health and safety provisions. The ILO’s analysis of work-related injuries in Qatar and the level of transparency offered by the government are a model by which other countries can be judged.

“No worker expects to go to work and not come home. There is now recognition that the denial of occupational health and safety rights for workers is a global scandal. In Qatar, progress is being made – from the transparency of data that identifies risks for workers and practical recommendations from training of workers on risks, to enforcement of penalties for non-compliance by employers. The culture being established in Qatar to openly report accidents underpins strong safety measures in the workplace,” said Burrow.

Qatar’s labour laws are embedded in national legislation. While workers are now given rights and protections, implementation and scrutiny ahead of the World Cup will continue to test the laws as cases of abuses of workers’ rights are exposed.

“As workers continue to be recruited to work in Qatar, the use of illegal recruitment fees will not be tolerated. Employers should be put on notice that those who deny workers the provisions of the law and charge illegal recruitment fees will be prosecuted. The culture of impunity, where employers won’t acknowledge the new labour laws, is coming to an end. Workers in Qatar have rights and protections in line with international standards, and these are being upheld through the labour courts. Fear is being used to intimidate workers and discredit the labour laws negotiated with trade unions and the International Labour Organization. The laws are in place. Let’s use them to uphold workers’ rights and resolve grievances,” said Sharan Burrow.