Labour issues in Qatar…Yes it’s bad. But what are you doing about it?
While blaming governments and laws (or the lack of it) is not completely unwarranted, the lack of civic engagement in addressing and resolving labour issues is a cause for concern. Small measures that citizens and residents of Qatar can take towards a more equitable society.
Of late, most media coverage on Qatar tends to be about workers living in squalid conditions, working in unsafe conditions, going unpaid for months on end and insidious kafala system. The blame is often placed squarely on the Qatar government, with little exploration of the many facets of the problem.
In some of the more nuanced pieces, journalists are able to show the complex nature of migration, covering the problems that begin in the sending countries and are perpetuated throughout the migration life cycle.
It is true the Qatari government has a key role to play in addressing this issue; but there is a collective responsibility we share as well, being a part of this system. There is much one can and should do to help improve the quality of life of low-income migrant workers in Qatar.
If we see a crime, it is our duty as law-abiding citizens and residents to report it to the necessary authorities. Exploitation and abuse of blue collar workers is a crime, and we need to report these as well.
Simple things like challenging a friend who made an insensitive or ill-informed comment, can open up a dialogue.
What are the violations to look out for?
As per the laws of Qatar confiscation of passports and non-payment of wages are illegal. Passports are the property of the governments that issue it and are not to be held by anyone else under any circumstances. Article 9 of the Sponsorship Law of 2009 in Qatar is quite clear that the personal documents of individuals must be returned to the owner upon completion of the residency paperwork, which must be completed within 90 days of the arrival of the employee into Qatar. Many people may not be aware of this, and choose to hold onto the passports of their domestic helpers, and employees. Often, the claim is that they are held for “safekeeping” but in that case, the best solution is to provide a secure storage facility for these employees. If you come across this, raise your concerns.
The Anti- Human Trafficking Law of 2011 in Qatar is based on the United Nation’s Palermo Protocol that defines circumstances how workers can be trafficked into the country. Some of these conditions include contract substitution and deception, which affect many workers in Qatar. It is highly likely that these men and women have paid significant amounts of money to recruiting agencies who have promised them high paying jobs and excellent conditions. Upon arrival in Doha, many are given contracts they are forced to sign for less pay and harsher conditions. Again, this violates Qatar’s laws and must be reported to the authorities. It is important to note that once the money has been handed over to the recruiting agent, the damage has already been done, and is very hard to rectify after the fact. Companies and individuals within Qatar have a responsibility to ensure that the recruitment agencies they use function in a clean, transparent and ethical manner.
We can dramatically impact the way blue-collar workers are treated by consciously stepping up our day-to-day interactions with them.
Additionally, there are numerous instances where companies and sponsors leave workers in the lurch, rendering their very residency in the country illegal. Some companies may incur losses and are unable to pay workers even the bare minimum for sustenance. They need to be held more accountable in order to ensure that all their employees are protected.
There needs to be an enforceable rule in place to ensure that companies have the capacity to care for workers in case their business is affected. If you come across a situation such as this, it is important to handle it with sensitivity. If one chooses to help a group of workers, it has to be executed in a clear, transparent manner. Will they be able to support a group of individuals with food for an extended period of time?
It is important to not raise expectations of a group of workers, if you are not able to assist them completely. Connect the group with representatives of their embassies. Pay for their transportation to the ministries and embassies.
It is important to not raise expectations of a group of workers, if you are not able to assist them completely.
Whom do I report violations to?
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs operates a hotline – 800 6611 – one can report labour abuse If you are unable to reach someone on this hotline, you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org highlighting details of the complaint. It helps to include evidence such as pictures or copies of documents to make the authorities’ task easier.
The Search and Follow-up Department, (known amongst migrant workers as ‘CID’ perhaps due to its office proximity by the CID office) is tasked with investigating issues faced by workers, including charges of “running away“, working for a sponsor other than their own, and for following up on victims of proven exploitation. The Search and Follow-up Department of the Ministry of Interior can be contacted on +974-44695333, fax +974- 4460- 2287 and via email on email@example.com. The National Human Rights Committee can be contacted on +974-44048844, a Hotline +974-66626663, fax on +974- 4444- 4013 and email firstname.lastname@example.org.
However, filing complaints, or helping someone file a complaint is just a start.
The man who washes your car or fills your fuel; the one who serves you tea at work everyday; the nanny; taxi drivers… on a daily basis, we are likely to meet anywhere between two to five low-income expatriates. Be aware that these are the men and women who appear as a statistic or number in human rights’ reports.
There is a story behind that number.
It is important to engage in discussions and educate those who are unaware of their rights. We can dramatically impact the way blue-collar workers are treated by consciously stepping up our day-to-day interactions with them.
If you directly sponsor someone, make sure you treat your hired help professionally and extend to them the consideration you expect from your own employer.
Then there are the small things, that have a big impact:
- If you go to a restaurant or a coffee shop, chances are the people working there have name-tags. It would make a big difference if you use their names, establish eye contact and smile when you make your order.
- Tipping is not quite the norm in Qatar. There are plenty of arguments for and against tipping, but it is a fact that those in the service industry are poorly paid. The second lowest after the construction sector. About 15-20% in tips is a healthy figure. Tip the guy who fills the tank in your car, tip the people who serve you karak in your cars, tip the guy in the neighborhood bakala who ran out of the grocery to get you your bottle of water, tip the guy who bags your provisions at the supermarket.
Speak up… especially with your friends
Simple things like challenging a friend who made an insensitive or ill-informed comment, can open up a dialogue. You may interact with someone who might make an uneducated comment ranging from, “if these workers do not like the conditions here, they can go back home.” to “surely, the conditions here are so much better than what they have back home.” In situations like this, if you have the knowledge and understand the situation better, challenge this notion. You may not be able to change their minds, but it may be the first time some one has challenged their opinions.
The fact is that they cannot leave, owing to the debt incurred at the time of recruitment. The fact is that even if conditions here are better than what they are accustomed to, they have their families back home. Being around loved ones is something one cannot put a price tag on. And injustices in one part of the world doesn’t justify a continuation in another.
Check out this related video produced by students of Doha College for THIMUN.
[Photo courtesy: TEDxPhotos]