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GCC states urged to protect migrant workers amid Covid19 crisis

On April 26, 2020

A coalition of NGOs, trade unions and human rights organisations have appealed to GCC states to give due consideration to the plight of migrant workers during the Covid19 crisis and take appropriate steps to protect them from exploitation and abuse. The letters to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain issues five key asks:

  • Ensure that all workers, quarantined or otherwise, whose living conditions leave them particularly vulnerable to infection, have equal access to testing and are provided with appropriate medical treatment, and that undocumented workers can seek medical treatment without fear of negative consequences, including detention and deportation. All workers should have access to adequate housing facilities, including facility to isolate themselves if necessary, as well as adequate water, food and sanitation, so they can effectively protect themselves.
  • Ensure that any sanctions imposed for quarantine violations avoid detention. Many detention facilities will further increase vulnerability to infection with overcrowding, shared bathrooms, and poor hygiene making it virtually impossible to put in effect basic measures to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak. Ensure that all workers who have been detained previously have equal access to testing; provided with adequate medical care if needed; and released from detention with the possibility of self-isolation where necessary. Refrain from arbitrary deportations of migrant workers, including as a means to contain COVID-19. Suspend arrests for workers who are accused of “absconding” or other immigration violations, ensuring alternative and safe accommodation if they could otherwise become homeless. Give people in immigration detention pending deportation alternatives amid health risks and global travel restrictions making deportation impossible in the near future. Ensure that expired visas and ID cards can be extended online during this period.
  • Seek the input and support of national and sectoral trade unions, where they exist. Ensure that migrant workers who are unable to work, either due to preventive quarantine or testing positive for COVID-19, continue to receive their wages and have an adequate standard of living, and that employers do not use the situation as a cover for introducing abusive practices such as unfair deductions or non-payment of wages or unfair dismissal. Monitor businesses to ensure that working conditions are safe and that companies across all sectors are implementing guidelines and requirements, including that workers have access to necessary protective measures and workplaces comply with adequate health and safety requirements including those specific to COVID-19. Ensure that all workers have effective access to remedy where their rights are breached, in particular during this period of enhanced vulnerability.
  • Provide the public with information to ensure that migrant workers, including domestic workers, do not face discrimination or stigma in relation to the COVID-19 virus.
  • In light of their acute vulnerability, ensure domestic workers are provided with access to timely and adequate protective measures and healthcare, and receive sick pay if they are unable to work due to illness. Instruct employers to provide domestic workers with protective equipment like gloves and masks for both cleaning and caring for any sick individuals, and to respect their rights including limits on their working hours and providing a rest day. Authorities should ensure there is a hotline so that workers or their families can call in situations of distress, and address the concerns of any worker in distress.

The signatories to these letters include, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Solidarity Center, Humanity United, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, International Trade Union Confederation, Building and Woodworkers International and Equidem.

So far, Bahrain has responded with measures being taken and UAE has acknowledged the letter. Other states have not yet responded. 

A few weeks earlier, the coalition also sent a similar letter to Qatar.