Campaigners and activists say law reforms may not be positive
PLAYFAIR QATAR slammed Qatar’s labour reform laws yesterday, saying it would be a “surprise” if the changes were positive.
The Gulf nation’s reforms come into effect today, after years of intense criticism from unions and human rights activists over the appalling working conditions in Qatar.
Under the new law, workers will allegedly be free to leave Qatar so long as they inform their employer first. Employees whose bosses refuse can appeal to a government committee that must address requests within three days.
Workers who have unsettled debts — potentially anyone who has taken out a local credit card, mortgage or car or personal loan — or those wanted as part of a criminal case can be forced to stay.
The law allows workers to change jobs but only after they complete an existing fixed-term contract or have worked five years on an open-ended one.
However, Playfair Qatar’s campaign co-ordinator and TUC policy officer Stephen Russell told the Star that he doesn’t believe Qatar will be able to fulfil its promises.
He said: “Our understanding is that the new laws are nowhere near this positive and although it would be a great step forward if this description was accurate, it would also
be a huge — if pleasant — surprise if it was.
“We’ve heard many promises from Qatar and very few of those promises have been fulfilled so far. But with unions — through the BWI — at last having access to the stadiums and the workers building them, there’s direct pressure on Qatar to deliver this time or at the least an open and honest voice to challenge them if they fail.
“However, this still leaves hundreds of thousands of workers, building infrastructure crucial to the delivery of the 2022 World Cup, yet to benefit from this potential advance. The protection of unions should now be given to all workers.”
Qatar claims that the reform will see the abolition of the Kafala system which has been likened to modern-day slavery and sees workers forced to pay recruitment fees, having their passports confiscated, failing to receive wages as well as health and safety breaches.
However, rights activists that have examined the reforms say they continue to leave workers ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous employers.
“This new law may get rid of the word ‘sponsorship’ but it leaves the same basic system intact,” said James Lynch, Amnesty International’s deputy director for global issues.
“Key problems that drive abuse remain. In practice, employers can still stop migrant workers from leaving the country. By making it easier for employers to confiscate workers’ passports, the new law could even make the situation worse for some workers.
“If the reform stops here, workers across the country — building and working in the stadiums, hotels and transport network that every player and fan in Qatar will use — will be at serious risk of human rights abuse.”