Qatar Fails to Stop ILO Forced Labour Investigation

Qatar’s government has failed in an attempt to close down an investigation into its system of forced labour by the UN’s International Labour Organisation in a key decision of the ILO’s Governing Body this week.

Worker and employer representatives combined with government delegates to vote 35 to 13, with 7 abstentions, in favour of sending a High-Level Tripartite mission to Qatar, putting added pressure on the country to end its system of modern slavery.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary said “The ILO’s clear stand against modern slavery gives hope to the 1.8 million migrant workers trapped in Qatar’s kafala system, which denies them the freedom to leave Qatar, change jobs or form trade unions to negotiate for decent wages and working conditions. The government of Qatar needs to make urgent and fundamental reforms to its labour laws to stop the appalling toll of death, injury and exploitation as pressure grows to meet the 2022 World Cup infrastructure deadline.”

The sending of an ILO mission to Qatar is an important step in the process of deciding on the launching of an official ILO Commission of Inquiry into forced labour in Qatar, which will be on the agenda at the March 2016 Governing Body meeting.
“The labour law changes recently announced by Qatar leave the kafala system intact, adding new layers of bureaucracy and making it harder for workers to leave Qatar or change jobs. They also allow employers to “lend” workers to other employers against the workers’ will. Most troubling of all is that the death toll amongst migrant workers is still climbing while the authorities there play public relations games to avoid international pressure for reform,” said Burrow.

With 1.8 million migrant workers now in Qatar, statistics from Qatar’s Supreme Council on Health predict a death toll of 1,090 migrant workers based on this year’s migrant worker population. With the number of workers being brought into the country yet to peak, some 7,000 workers will die in Qatar before the scheduled start of the 2022 World Cup unless the country’s labour laws are brought into line with the ILO’s global standards.

“Qatar, one of the world’s richest countries, is easily able to make these reforms. Freedom of movement and freedom of association for migrant workers, a minimum wage regardless of the race of the worker, and a compliance system that actually works would transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers and their families back home. The only thing lacking is political will,” added Burrow.

To see the reality for Qatar’s migrant workers: