You have reached the main content

No off days, 14-hour workdays and confiscated passports

Domestic workers in Qatar share harrowing tales with Amnesty International

On October 20, 2020

In a new report on domestic workers in Qatar, Amnesty International recorded the testimonies of 105 women, the majority of whom shared experiences of extreme abuse, including sexual assault.

The key findings include:

  • 90 of the 105 women regularly worked more than 14 hours per day;
  • 89 regularly worked seven days a week; 
  • 87 had their passports confiscated by their employers;
  • Half of the women worked more than 18 hours per day;
  • 40 women described being insulted, slapped or spat at;
  • One woman said she was treated “like a dog”.

According to Amnesty, the impunity employers enjoy, alongside the lack of inspection mechanisms, contributes to the continuing abuse of workers.

Some highlights and testimonies from the report:

Reina*, a 45-year-old Filipino woman, described how she got into a car accident because she had only had two hours sleep: 

 “I went to sleep at 1 a.m., and at 3 a.m. the 17-year-old daughter woke me up asking me to go and buy her a Red Bull. Then at 5.30 a.m. I started my usual working day, washing the car and preparing to drive the kids to school… at 10 p.m. I crashed the car into the wall.” 

At least 23 women interviewed said they were not given enough food and felt hungry during their employment in Qatar. Some women interviewed also described sleeping in cramped rooms, in some cases on the floor or without air conditioning. Accounts of poor living conditions highlight the Qatari authorities’ failure to conduct workplace inspections. 

Emily* said:

“Madam will say ‘[you are] a monster, I will cut your tongue’. I am scared. She will tell me ‘I will kill you’, always bad words. I am only a [maid], and I can’t do anything.”

Fifteen women said they faced physical abuse at the hands of their employers or family members, including spitting, beating, kicking, punching and hair-pulling. 

Five women said they had been sexually abused by their employers or visiting relatives. The sexual abuse ranged from harassment to fondling and rape. Most women felt they could not complain to the police for fear of retaliation by their employers.  

One woman, Julia*, did report sexual abuse to the police. The son of Julia’s employer visited the house one day and attempted to rape another woman working in the house. The man offered the women money to keep quiet, but they decided to go to the police.

The police investigator who looked into the allegations accused Julia and her friend of “making up stories” and dropped the case. In the end, their employer bought them tickets home in exchange for the women signing a statement which was written in Arabic and which they did not understand.

The report also puts forward comprehensive recommendations to improve the plight of domestic workers. The recommendations are for the Qatar government, employers, and home country governments. A few of the main recommendations include:

  • Include domestic workers under the Labour Law, and meanwhile bring the Domestic Workers Law and the standard contract in line with international standards, including ILO Convention 189 on Domestic Workers.  
  • Include domestic workers under the Wage Protection System to ensure that payment is electronically monitored and action is taken when monthly payment is not made.
  • Maintain a public “blacklist” of owners of abusive recruitment agencies and prevent them from operating recruitment agencies in the future.
  • Conduct mandatory training for domestic workers to educate them about their rights and obligations under the law based on the domestic workers booklet developed and promoted by MADLSA entitled Know Your Rights. The training should also introduce domestic workers to the hotline, complaint mechanisms and other support measures available to them should they need to report abuse.
  • Conduct mandatory training for employers seeking to recruit domestic workers about their legal obligations. This should be based on the Guide to employing migrant domestic workers developed and promoted by MADLSA and should also tackle gender-based violence, racism and discriminatory attitudes.
  • Establish mandatory pre-employment visits to check on domestic workers’ future living and working conditions, including her living space, expected chores and the number of people in the household; and follow up privately with the worker no later than within a month of her starting the job. 
  • Given the limitations of in-house inspections, develop an alternative model that ensures domestic workers can report freely about their working conditions.
  • Reach out systematically to domestic workers on the phone numbers provided upon their arrival in Qatar to check how they are and request that they report in person to the inspectors for a private check-in. If unable to reach a worker directly, follow up with her employer. 
  • Ensure that domestic workers have access to personal phones and can use them regularly to communicate with their families during their stay in Qatar. 
  • Continue to promote the live-out domestic workers’ model as an alternative to live-in, to better monitor and control the working and living conditions of domestic workers.
  • Refrain from bringing a case to the attention of the employer whilst the domestic worker is still in the house to ensure her safety and avoid possible retaliation.
  • Expedite domestic workers’ access to justice and establish a special committee within the Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes, with judges and personnel trained to look into cases referred to them by MADLSA’s Domestic Workers Unit.
  • Ensure that domestic workers have full access to the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund when their employers refuse to pay them their dues and other financial benefits, and access to an air ticket home. The Fund could be supported by contributions from agencies or employers. 
  • Ensure that domestic workers are allowed to spend their day off outside the home and support them, in coordination with their embassies, to build community groups to connect and support each other. 

The full report can be read here.