[REPORT] Lack of ethical recruitment in Qatar leaves thousands of migrant workers in debts
The reality for low-income workers in Qatar is that though they get paid more salary than what they would receive back home, they get into huge debts pre-departure to pay steep recruitment fees and bribes.
About 71.2% of low-income workers paid recruitment agents to get their job in Qatar, the average being $1,095, according to data published in a report titled ‘Migrant Labour Recruitment to Qatar’.
The report specially commissioned as part of the Qatar Foundation Migrant Worker Welfare Initiative highlights the rampant practice of charging migrant workers exorbitant recruitment fees by agents and middlemen, that paves the way for exploitation of these workers even before having entered the country.
Qatar’s Labour Law prohibits charging or deduction of wages of employees for “recruitment” fees. It states:
“The person who is licensed to recruit workers from abroad for others shall be prohibited from doing the following:
To receive from the worker any sums representing recruitment fees or expenses or any other costs.”
However, according to the report, this law is restricted to only the manpower agencies based in Qatar, who manage the placement of foreign workers in companies upon arrival. This means, employers hiring these workers would be required to pay these agencies. However, the problem arises when employers refuse to do so due to financial constraints or cost-cutting. As a result, both recruitment and placement agencies conveniently over charge workers in order to pocket their share of costs during the recruitment stage.
How much do workers ‘cost’?
Upon surveying about 1000 low-income workers in Qatar, 71.2% said they paid to get their job in Qatar – the average being $1,095. Since the fees were beyond what they could afford, more than half (55.8%) raised the money from personal or family savings, while 45.6% obtained loans.
Here’s the average charge of private recruitment agencies in some of the major labour sending countries.
|Country||Charges Range (US$)||Approx. Average Charge (US$)|
Charging a recruitment fee is not “illegal”. According to the report, “The ILO Convention 181 allows recruitment agents to collect fees from workers, if and when governments of sending countries allow it – and all major labour sending countries do allow for migrant workers to pay commissions to recruitment agencies.”
The standard fees would be a month’s salary. However recruitment agents in Bangladesh and India were found to charge from one and a half months to three months salary.
“Depending upon the level of exploitation, workers can lose up to 60% of their wages over a two-year period as they pay off their loans,” the report further adds.
The costs incurred by migrant workers don’t stop at recruitment fees. The report also highlights the concept of “kickback” bribery that recruitment agencies are known to practice.
This happens when employers or representatives from the employing companies in Qatar personally go to the “sending countries” for recruiting candidates. They can charge the agency from $200–600 per head for the contract. In addition, agencies often cover other expenses borne by the company representative such as hotel charges, food, entertainment and airfares.
The only way to recover these “hidden costs” is through recruitment fees that migrant workers are forced to pay.
The report also points out that it’s usually the poorest, low skilled, least educated, and least able to pay, who are charged the fees. “Others who are classified as skilled are spared from this servitude because of their fewer numbers, high demand for their services and their unwillingness to pay. It is precisely for this reason that this kickback practice cannot be deemed to be simply part of the “culture of business” and thus legitimated.”
The report roughly estimates that if 300,000 low-skilled workers are deployed in the next two or three years in Qatar, kickback bribes would amount to about $120 million (assuming an average of $400 per person).
When workers are not the responsibility of employers
Another issue that the report highlights is the existence of “labour supply agencies” in the country.
Labour supply agencies is a collective term used in the report for labour suppliers, labour brokers, manpower suppliers or labour outsource subcontractors – agencies that “recruit and warehouse migrant labour, hiring (or leasing) them out to companies and other organisations on short-term or seasonal bases”.
These agencies take care of the workers’ basic rights i.e. wages, insurance, food and accommodation. Employers in Qatar rely heavily on them to be freed from any sort of responsibility.
However, this only adds to the financial woes of migrant workers. As the report explains, “The use of these labour supply agencies (or “outsourcing” companies) increases the costs of migration and migration recruitment because they are another layer of middlemen taking commissions between the recruitment agency in the sending country and the ultimate employer in Qatar.”
Recommendations and awareness
Qatari authorities are said to wipe their hands off the whole migrant labour recruitment procedure, only because they view it as “a foreign labour market process of supply and demand”. Hence, there’s a lack of proper legislation to monitor the work of recruitment agencies in Qatar and in the origin countries.
There’s a critical need for ethical recruitment where migrant workers are not ripped off through recruitment fees. One of the recommendations the report provides is to reduce the number of intermediaries in the process between the migrant workers and the employer in Qatar, thus reducing trafficking violations, bribery and the general corruption in the migration industry.
The full report can be viewed below.