Drafted & Waiting: Domestic Workers’ Remain Voiceless
A weekly day off is one of the most contentious issues that stalls the passing of a law to govern domestic workers in Qatar. And it’s also one of the main issues that has slowed down the process of a GCC unified contract for domestic workers.
That one point alone surmises the immediate and desperate need to assure the protection of the large number of domestic workers, mainly female and from Asia, who travel to the region for employment.
In this report we assess two draft documents.
One is the Qatar draft law of 2008 regarding Domestic Workers under the earlier Emir HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the other is the unified GCC contract for workers.
While both are moves in the right direction, they still leave a lot to be desired.
The first has been stalled (mainly over the weekly day off issue) and the second, still in the pipeline, is for the most part ambiguous.
JustHere spoke to experts on domestic workers’ issues.
There are roughly about 2,092,382 domestic workers in the GCC, according to the 2013 estimates of ILO. In Qatar there are 80,300 domestic workers, of whom more than half are female (48,147).
GCC unified contract: Problematic clauses
Migrant Forum Asia notes that several provisions of the contract were not explicit, but rather subject to negotiations between employers and employees. “Such provisions are problematic because domestic workers often lack bargaining power or the resources to make informed choices.”
Associate Professor of Sociology, Institute for Migration Studies, Lebanese American University in Beirut, Dr Ray Jureidini lays threadbare the many ambiguities and causes for concern in the proposed unified contract.
Dr Jureidini also served as a research consultant on the Qatar Foundation Migrant Worker Welfare Initiative.
There are a few clauses that Dr Jureidini deems ‘highly problematic’.
The clauses that lists the commitment of the employer to employee makes medical treatment the responsibility of the former, “unless the injury/harm was deliberately self-inflected (sic) by the worker.”
Dr Jureidini finds this an interesting exception to quote. “It suggests that maybe there would be such a case… (but) if such a thing were to happen, there might have been a trigger.”
And that trigger cannot be overlooked, he stresses, and points out another ‘insidious’ clause.
Maintain the property of the First Party and his family members, and the Second Party shall compensate for any the damages (sic) she may inflict on to such property, arising from her mistake, in accordance with the provisions set forth in the applicable national legislation in this regard.
“This can be exploited, and it is an insidious clause,” says Dr Jureidini. “There has to be a distinction between accidental and deliberate. I know this actually happens, penalising the worker for accidental damages, and it shouldn’t be allowed.”
Rima Khalush of Migrant Rights says: “This provision may facilitate illegal wage deductions. Domestic workers would have difficulty defending themselves from these allegations, particularly as access to legal representation or translation services remain limited.”
The unified contract also states:
The death of the First Party, or his separation from his family, or his absence outside the country for more than six months for any reason, unless a family member requests the transfer of the license to hire the worker for his own interest.
In this case, this family member shall replace the First Party in this contract.
This is akin to indentured labour system, says Dr Jureidini. “The choice of the worker is not even taken into account here. And the agreement of the worker has to be free of coercion.”