Forced labour and free visas are major labour rights issues in Qatar
A ‘Cultural Saloon’ organised by The Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking (QFCHT), invited clerics and experts to discuss the country’s labour rights issues. The role of religious foundations, Qatari legislation and the media in raising awareness about labour rights and duties were also highlighted during the session last night.
Qatar’s labour rights, or the lack of it, have been in the spotlight ever since the country won the rights to host the FIFA 2022 World Cup. With scores of migrant workers being roped in the World Cup preparations, it’s imperative that the country adopts rights of international standards. Currently there are two issues that need to be addressed – forced labour and free visa scam.
According to The International Labour Organisation (ILO), there are over 12 million people around the world who have been trapped under forced labour.
As per the Qatari labour law, bonded labour is:
- If employers have caused any harm to an employee, both physical and mental.
- If employers have limited the freedom of employees.
- If employers have withheld important documents, such as passports, of employees.
According to Article 23 of the law, any company found committing the aforementioned offences would have their licenses cancelled. The law also sentences perpetrators to imprisonment and a fine of not more than QR250,000.
Addressing the second major issue of ‘free visas’, Dr Mahmood Saeed, a legal officer from QFCHT, said: “There is no such thing as a ‘free visa’. Article 5 of the Labour Law prohibits the selling and buying of visas. Employees caught buying such visas will be prosecuted, deported and fined. The entry and exit laws for expatriates prohibit them from selling visas as well. They can face imprisonment to up to three years.
“But we are helpless when workers who are caught buying such visas say they were unaware of the labour laws existing in the country. Even if we have laws, how do we get it across to workers who come in to the country?”
Getting to know your rights
According to Article 5 of the Labour Law, rights of workers precede the rights of the State. The law grants every worker his/her full set of rights even if it isn’t specified in their employment contract. Any case concerning exploitation of these rights will be expedited within two months maximum.
Below are a few other rights that you are entitled to as an employee (both white-collared and blue-collared):
- An employee has the right to terminate the contract if the employer has assaulted him, or feels threatened by the employer. Since employees are generally considered the “weak party”, the law gives them the right to terminate the contract.
- Every employee is entitled to an end of service gratuity. In case of injury or death of the employee, his inheritors are entitled to the same.
- In case an employee is accused of violating the company’s policies, he has the right to be informed about the violations. He has the right to appeal against penalties. He cannot be penalised twice for the same violation.
- The working hours for every employee should be a maximum of eight hours. It should be split into four hours each with a one-hour break in between. During Ramadan, working hours should be a maximum of six hours.
- Every employee is entitled for an annual leave of a minimum of three weeks at least.
- No employee can be forced by an employer to work for life.
- The only entity who can withhold the salary of an employee is the court. Employers must pay their employees their wages, and also have a proof of any kind of salary transaction. For instance, in larger organisations, bank transfers must serve as a proof. While for smaller enities such as grocery stores, that do not have a proper documentation system, employees should sign a salary receipt as a proof.
Click here to read the online manual for expatriate employees in Qatar, issued by the Ministry of Labour.
Long-term media strategy
The role of media in enhancing the social awareness of labour rights has often been talked about. However, Dr Salalh Aldeen Alzain believes that the responsibility of raising awareness doesn’t fall only on the shoulders of media. It should be the responsibility of organisations such as QFCHT to form a multi-lateral partnership with media channels to highlight this cause.
“Organisations can collaborate with academic institutions in conducting continuous research to provide media channels with new and accurate information and statistics. Another suggestion would be to assess and evaluate the performances of companies in the labour rights aspect. This could be a motivation for other companies to follow suit,” said Dr Salalh.
Islam sees all humans as equals
It’s not just the law, but religion too that doesn’t discriminate among people. Giving references from the Holy Quran, cleric Sheikh Baderaldeen Mohammed Othman said that Islam has honoured human race regardless of race, nationality or identity. “You are all created from Adam. No white man is greater than black. All people are equal. Allah has called upon all men to treat workers well.
“Employees are your responsibility, and you should treat them well. Feed them with the same food you eat, dress them with the same clothes you wear,” he said.
“Don’t look down upon your workers; don’t assault them; don’t deprive them of their wages.”