[Amnesty Report] Qatar fails to protect its domestic workers – the victims of physical, emotional and mental abuse, often unpaid and working in inhuman conditions
- JustHere Qatar
- On April 23, 2014
With no legal protection of their labour rights, domestic workers in Qatar continue to face severe exploitation and violence at the hands of their employers, Amnesty International says in its latest report on human rights violations in Qatar.
While FIFA 2022-driven international attention shines the light on exploitation of construction workers, there’s fear that domestic workers who are not covered by the labour law might receive no reprieve. The report – titled ‘My sleep is my break: Exploitation of domestic workers in Qatar’ – covers the experiences of just 52 domestic workers, but their tales are sordid. As per the 2010 census close to 85,000 low-income female migrants are employed as domestic servants in Qatar, all of whom fall outside of the purview of the labour law, and receive little by way of legal protection.
“The complete absence of protections for domestic workers’ labour rights, and the fact that they are isolated in employers’ homes, leaves them exposed to abuse to an even greater extent,” says Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Global Issues Director.
“Promises by the government to protect domestic workers’ labour rights have so far not amounted to anything. Qatar must stop dragging its feet over this and guarantee domestic workers legal protection for basic rights immediately.”
A draft law on domestic workers was submitted to the Qatari cabinet in September last, but that has seen no progress either.
The much touted draft model contract, offered as a solution by regional governments, was adopted by the GCC in January 2013. According to this contract, workers would be granted a weekly day-off, and their salaries would be paid by bank transfer.
However, there has been no further development, and this is not likely to be a priority given the current diplomatic row.
Speaking to JustHere, Amnesty International’s researcher on migrants’ rights in the Gulf, James Lynch says: “It is not entirely clear why progress on the GCC common contract for domestic workers has slowed. Diplomatic disputes between some of the Gulf states are probably unlikely to have helped. In any case, the key point for us is that for domestic workers, contracts – even if standardised across the region – are not enough on their own. Just like other workers domestic workers should be entitled to minimum working standards set out in law, and specific means to enforce those through grievance or judicial procedures.”
The Amnesty report highlights the “double discrimination” that these women face due to their gender and economic class.
The 52 women interviewed were in the employ of both Qatari and expatriate residents, including Asians, Arabs and Europeans.
Here’s a summary of the major issues the report touches upon.
Exploitation of domestic workers often begins as soon as they land in Qatar. Women have their passports taken by recruitment agencies directly from immigration officials at Doha Airport, which are handed to their employers. This was the “last time” they had possession of their passports before their eventual departure. Some even had their mobile phones confiscated.
Another malpractice prevalent here is “contract substitution” where a worker’s original contract is replaced by a new, “usually less advantageous” contract (sometimes only in Arabic), upon arrival. A similar case was reported by Al Million taxi drivers, read the full story here.
This form of deception often results in anxiety among workers. In March 2013, Hamad Hospital’s Psychiatric Unit reported “anxiety or depression caused be deception about work was the number one cause of admission to the unit”. Every year, about 30 women employed as domestic workers were admitted to the unit, and majorly for “attempted suicides”.
Domestic workers have complained that, “recruiters did not respond positively when asked for help”. In fact, agents often encourage domestic workers who are unhappy with the contract to “run away” immediately after the end of the three-month probation period, as it would allow agents to charge employers full recruitment fees to get a new maid.
Exclusion from Labour Law
What worsens the situation of domestic workers in Qatar is that they do not enjoy the protection of Qatar’s Labour Law. Drivers, home nurses, cooks, gardeners and similar workers receive no legal protection for the labour rights which makes it impossible for them to lodge complaints against their employers in the event of abuse or breach of contract. Nor do they have any say regarding the number of working hours, weekly-offs, annual leave, accommodation or payment.
Physical and sexual abuse
In November 2012, the Qatar Foundation for the Protection of Women and Children reported a 54% rise between 2011 and 2012 in reports of violence against women. About 86% of complaints were related to physical assault, 6% to sexual violence and 3% to mental torture. These numbers however are not specific of domestic workers in Qatar, they only state the incidence of domestic violence in the country.
Meanwhile, the Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking states that it received 52 cases of serious abuse of women in 2012, 22 were that of physical abuse while 11 were of sexual abuse. Of these, 12 women were categorised as victims of forced labour.
Currently, there is no law in Qatar that criminalises domestic violence. Despite the presence of institutions that provide support to victims of abuse, there is lack of coordination between them and governmental organisations to address any such issues.
Moreover, victims of sexual abuse often fail to complain to authorities for fear of being charged with “illicit relations”. In March 2013, around half of the 75 women in detention were held on charges related to “illicit relations” or “love crimes”.
Forced Labour and Human trafficking
In 2011, Qatar passed a law on Human Trafficking, thereby making it a criminal offence. The law defines the crime as follows:
“Shall be considered committing the crime of trafficking in persons anybody who used, in any form, or transported or extradite, or harboured him or received or a natural person, both within the country or across its national borders, whether by use of force or violence or threat, or by abduction, fraud, or deception, or abuse of power, or the exploitation of vulnerability or need, or a promise of giving or receiving of payments or benefits for somebody in exchange for his consent on trafficking another person over whom he has authority.”
The law also exempts victims from the penalties under the Sponsorship Law. As a result, victims are allowed to leave employers without the fear of being arrested or deported for “absconding”.
Even then, in 2012, the Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking registered 58 complaints from domestic workers and 40 women were accommodated in the shelter. In 2013, the organisation received 200-300 phone calls a month from domestic workers or their relatives.
Key Recommendations to the Government of Qatar
- Repeal or amend Article 3 of the Labour Law to ensure that all workers – including domestic workers and other excluded categories – have their labour rights protected by law, equally.
- Remove the requirement in the Sponsorship Law for foreign nationals to obtain the permission of their current employer before moving jobs or leaving the country.
- Assess recruitment agencies in Qatar for their compliance with international human rights standards, publish these assessments, and cancel the recruitment licences of agencies who do not comply.
- Provide a residence permit for trafficked persons wishing to pursue compensation from the perpetrators.
- Decriminalise “absconding”, never detain individuals for the sole purpose of having “run away” from their employer, and always explore alternatives to detention.
- Permit those who file complaints to return to their home countries during court cases or to work for new sponsors through the duration of their cases;
- Make it mandatory for all police officers and deportation centre officials to undergo training to identify and assist victims of domestic violence, including domestic workers.
- Ensure that legislation regarding rape states that medical and forensic evidence are collected in line with international guidelines and are not given disproportionate weight over other evidence, such as the victim’s testimony, in order to convict a perpetrator.
- Stop the practice of detaining women with their children on charges of “illicit relations”.
- Take special measures, including awareness-raising through the media, and educational campaigns to counter stereotypical attitudes towards women migrant domestic workers.
You can read the entire report here.
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