Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East

Return to research Posted on Aug 10 2013

With the ongoing Brazilian protests against the World Cup’s preparations, the issue of abused labour is brought to attention again in both Russia and Qatar as they prepare to host the tournament in 2018 and 2022. Last year, Qatar’s labour conditions were put under the spot considering the lack of legislations that can protect 94% of the country’s work force. The Qatar Foundation has drawn up rules to have contractors pay for the worker’s ticket with three weeks off a year. While praising this step, Human Rights Watch said legislating such rules are not enough if they are not put in practice.

Last month, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) sent a letter to FIFA’s Joseph Blatter to ensure that the preparation for the World Cup in Russia and Qatar do not violate the rights of workers. The FIDH recalled “the sports organisation’s responsibility to investigate and remedy reports that workers are being subject to unfair payment practices, excessive work hours, racist violence, and work conditions that can amount to forced labour.”

The FIDH’s letter quotes a report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) estimating that Qatar will recruit one million more to prepare for the World Cup. The FIDH says working conditions for migrant workers in Qatar “amount to forced labour” with acts of “debt bondage, confiscation of passports by employers, overcrowded and unsanitary labour camps, the absence of employment contracts and arbitrary salary deductions.” The risk of workers dying in construction sites are not absent. The Nepali embassy in Qatar said 191 Nepali workers died from working conditions in 2010 and another 163 died in 2011. According to Qatari laws, workers are not allowed to form trade unions to protect their rights.

Documentation, Qatar, Population, Work Conditions, Legislation, Qatar, Recruitment Agencies, Research, Working conditions

One thought on “94% of Qatar's Labour Force is Foreign and Violated

  1. fahmi Saber says:

    Underground Economy in Qatar
    I wonder how a businessman can enter a country in globalized economy when it is not allowed to do so without a national sponsor. This is not a new topic; on the contrary, people all over the world are criticizing sponsorship system in Qatar and many activists are organizing campaigns to convince the world not hold Olympiad 2022 in Qatar due to its systematic violations of human rights. A simple look at the annual report prepared by USA Foreign Department on human rights makes a reader horrified at what workers face as of low salaries, harsh working conditions, beating, and other forms of abuse. This is an old story no one is interested to read about. It is even dwarfed by recent events and blood baths which have overshadowed all other events.
    Underground economy is sometimes called shadow economy because it is unseen. In this type of business, a Qatari person opens a company, let’s say a contracting company. The local man starts searching for aliens who need sponsors to start a business. The Qatari person provides him with the license as a branch of his company and the alien investor sets up the business with his own money for a certain amount of money given to the Qatari man who accepts to make his business part of his company and be a sponsor. Of course, everything in the company is registered in the name of the Qatari person. They usually sign a paper at a lawyer’s office stating that the real owner of the branch is an expatriate and the Qatari man is a sponsor and the owner of the whole company including the branch officially.
    Things might go so smoothly and no conflict might arise; however, it happens so often that the sponsor cancels the residence permit for one reason or another, and mostly in case the branch is so profitable and the sponsor wants it for himself. The expat can complain to Labor department, but the case takes a long time to be settled and the expat pays a fine for each day of delay in the country with the residence permit is cancelled. This way is extremely beneficial for the Qataris who want easy money. A mother company may include up to ten branches set up by expats who pay their Qatari sponsor up to half the profit or sometimes lump sum agreed upon beforehand. The confession written at a lawyer’s office is not a protection because it is illegal and the Qatari man can cancel his residence permit immediately.
    This type of agreements is very common in Qatar but rarely is it brought up because both the expat and the Qatari persons want a mutual benefit. But in this type of business which is based on good intentions, there is no legal guarantee for the expat to retain his business. It is all a risky venture and full of anxiety.
    In contrast, UAE, Qatar’s neighbor, cancelled this system and an expat does not need to do business via “underground economy”. An expat can start his business together a local citizen but the local citizen cannot cancel the residence of the expat. In case of conflict, the alien investor pays his local partner the money agreed upon and the alien finds another partner. It is a very good arrangement and saves the rights of the expat investor and relationship between the citizen and the expat grows into close friendship and endures for a long time.
    Yet, things may be even worse than robbing the alien of his business legally. If the expat investor in Qatar is a woman and the sponsor is a Qatari man, she may get abused sexually which has happened repeatedly. It is undeclared policy in Qatar to absolve their compatriots in any legal case as a sort of national duty.
    This problem is not faced by international big companies with huge capacities and which have their own legal consultants and can defend themselves well in case of exploitation or abuse. Most often, small and medium businesses suffer from this type of abuse as they normally have limited finance.
    Yet, underground economy also takes other forms. Some Qataris recruit workers for household works like drivers, teachers, nurses, cooks or other similar jobs and send them to work for money. In fact, there are expatriates who do the same without any license or registration of their underground business. In such a case, workers obey orders to retain their original jobs with very meager wages. Such “businessmen” make handsome money by activities like beautification and hairdos, baby sitting, driving, cleaning or tutoring and they send their workers anywhere regardless of who the customer is or what working conditions are with any payment for the worker.
    Moreover, in some establishments where an expat works as an employee, people in charge who are mostly citizens order the employee to do personal jobs related to their specialization after work like tutoring their children or making their accounts or translating documents. Worse than this, citizens whose jobs require research and writing papers normally ask their expat employees to write for them, sometimes in return for money and sometimes for no payment at all. Employees are often scared or contract termination and they accept such work to maintain their jobs. In this way, citizens make names for themselves within the establishment or in media if they are interested in publishing. There are academics, journalists and executives who rely completely on the expats in their establishments for writing papers. These pseudo-writers get job promotions and salary increment for publications they have not written.
    Lawyers are specially benefiting from this situation. Expat lawyers are not allowed to appear in court for deliberation and only citizens can appear before a judge. However, majors and thorny cases are referred to the lawyers or legal consultants working for the Qatari lawyer who study the cases and prepare the case the files and explain them to Qatari lawyer who appear in court and deliberate the case. What is astonishing is that there are cases worth millions; a small part of which go the consultants and the rest goes to the citizen. There is no law that defines a certain percentage to go the consultant who figured out the maze and found a way out. A lucky lawyer is one who employs smart consultants who win him cases and invariably millions and make him a glittering name in the judiciary sector.
    In short, shadow economy is a rich soil for abuse, robbery and humiliation. Qatar should follow the footsteps of its neighbor UAE which has adopted a more fair and human policy to all foreign investors, just to reduce its portfolio of foreigners’ abuse.
    Fahmi Saber

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Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East