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JustHere | December 10, 2016

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A vote for workers’ union? “Recognise the right of association and self-organisation”: UN Special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

A vote for workers’ union? “Recognise the right of association and self-organisation”: UN Special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

Recognising the right of association and to self-organisation for all workers, including migrants, was one of the key recommendations put forward by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, at the end of his tour of Qatar.

This, the abolition of Kafala system (including exit permits and sponsorship system) and strong legislations to protect the right of domestic workers are some of the highlights of François Crépeau’s recommendations.

François Crépeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants

François Crépeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants

Speaking to JustHere on Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (QCCI) resistance to abolishing the Kafala system, he said though a meeting was requested with them, it did not take place.

“Businesses all over the world are often reluctant for change in labour regulations, because they fear a sort of a snowball effect. I think that the Qatari authorities are well-positioned to develop a discourse and projects and practices that will show the main businesses that a debt-free workforce, whose rights are better protected, whose skills are better matched to the labour needs, because they are recruited for what they can do and not for what they can pay, will in the end create productivity gains that will benefit whole of the industries.”

“It is my impression Qatar 2022 is precisely gearing towards doing this, for the projects they would be heading in the next nine years,” he said, adding that at present there was a lack of capacity to effectively implement even existing legislations.

On the 2004 Domestic Workers’ draft contract that’s still being deliberated on, and the common GCC draft contract, Crepeau told JustHere, that he had seen the drafts, but the problem was with implementation. “There is a clear lack of capacity to implement anything in private homes, at present. There is no framework for inspection. The fact that there are supposedly rules for governing these contracts, when they lack implementation they don’t mean anything. It is a delicate issue, because making labour inspection inside private homes is never easy in any country.”

“The exit permit should be replaced by a system where creditors can apply to a court for a travel ban.”

A critical point he made in his statement was that Qatari authorities should “undertake measures to create a more positive perception of migrants in Qatari society, stressing that migrants undertake important jobs in Qatar, are an essential part of Qatar’s economic success and deserve to see their dignity and rights protected on par with that of citizens.”

“[T]he vast majority of migrants in Qatar are in the country at the government’s invitation, and they have received work permits in order to fill labour needs, which are largely created by Qatar’s booming economy, massive construction projects, and widespread reliance on domestic workers.”

Speaking of supplier nations, he said almost all of the workers he spoke to had paid recruitment fees to come here. “Qatar should work on creative solutions with countries of origin to makes sure there are mechanisms in place for recruitment, registering of contract, and ensuring that the workers are debt free on arrival.”

He commended in particular the mandatory standards of migrant workers’ welfare by Qatar Foundation as an inspiring model.

His key recommendations include:
  • Banning illegal recruitment fees. This could be achieved by adopting a uniform model contract with terms and conditions clearly stated, for all workers, regardless of their nationality, and ensuring they are properly informed on their rights in a language they understand.
  • Collect disaggregated data, inter alia, on complaints by migrant workers against their employers/sponsors, on labour standards violations, and on workplace accidents, injuries and illnesses.
  • Create a strong and effective labour inspection system, with more labour inspectors, who should be well trained on human rights standards, and interpreters in the most commonly used languages. Inspection should include interviewing the migrant workers, reviewing their contracts and making sure they are allowed to keep their passports, are issued IDs, and are paid on time.
  • Recognise the right of association and to self-organisation for all workers, including migrants.
  • Make it easier for migrants to change employers without sponsor/employer consent and abolish the exit visa requirement, which leads to a large number of migrants being stranded in Qatar for no apparent reason. The exit permit should be replaced by a system where creditors can apply to a court for a travel ban that can only be granted upon consideration of each individual circumstances.
  • Abolish the kafala system and replace it by a regulated open labour market system, where the work permit allows the worker to change employer.
  • Provide appropriate detention conditions, and ensure that all migrants deprived of their liberty have easy access to means of contacting their family, consular services and a lawyer, which should be free of charge if necessary, have access to an interpreter, and have the right to promptly challenge their detention. Never detain individuals for the sole purpose of having “run away” from their employer, always explore alternatives to detention, never detain children, and establish more shelters.
Highlights of visit:

Though the 2009 sponsorship law was amended to make it illegal for sponsors to confiscate passports, Crepeau found it to be practised widely, and hence called for an effective enforcement of the law. The 2004 labour law too, despite providing important rights and safeguards for workers, suffers limitations, he added. It does not provide for a minimum wage, it bans migrants from forming trade unions and from collective bargaining, and it excludes domestic workers.

While talking about the few camps that he visited in the Industrial Area, majority of them did not seem to conform to Qatari legislation. “Bunk beds, overcrowding, shoddy construction of these camps, no kitchen, and limited access to water – the whole setting was like a dump. This should be remedied quickly.”

Despite the spate of articles in international media criticising the abuse of workers in Qatar, Crepeau feels that the issue was still underreported. Both by media and officials. He sees this scrutiny, especially in the light of 2022 World Cup, as an opportunity for Qatar to implement effective mechanisms, test them and perhaps even create models others can use.

Do you think there will be strategic and qualitative changes in the country with regards to migrant rights, by 2022?

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