Playfair Qatar to watch reforms with ‘cautious optimism’
INTERNATIONAL labour rights investigators are no longer probing Qatar after its pledge to dismanle the kafala system and end modern slavery, though there remained some scepticism as to what the bloodstained Gulf state would actually change.
With the announcement that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has closed a complaint against Qatar, the reaction was positive from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as well as the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI).
Under the kafala system, workers are forced to pay recruitment fees, have their passports confiscated, go without pay and risk their health and safety.
Playfair Qatar’s Stephen Russell feels that while on the surface the pledge looks good, he remained cautious as to whether it would be put in practice due to the lack of change after years of intense criticism from unions and human rights activists over the slave-like working conditions in Qatar.
He told the Star: “The reforms promised are of a scale we haven’t seen before, and this feels like a fundamental shift in Qatar’s attitude. We will watch with cautious optimism.”
ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow called on other Gulf states to join Qatar in improving the rights of migrant workers.
“Qatar has set a new standard for the Gulf states, and this must be followed by Saudi Arabia and the [United Arab Emirates] where millions of migrant workers are trapped in modern slavery,” said Burrow.
The complaint lodged by the ITUC in 2014 exposed the exploitative conditions of two million migrant workers servicing and building the huge infrastructure programme to deliver the 2022 Fifa World Cup.
“New commitments made by Qatar to the ITUC and the ILO will normalise industrial relations in the country and have opened the way for international businesses operating in Qatar to sign agreements on workers’ rights and decent work with global union federations,” added Burrow.
The BWI will sign a union agreement with French-based construction transnational Vinci and its joint venture partner QDVC at the end of the month, covering all their workers in Qatar.
BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson said: “This agreement with QDVC and Vinci, which complements and builds on our productive co-operation with Qatar’s Supreme Committee on Delivery and Legacy, is a major step towards the full respect of workers’ rights in Qatar.
“As the text of the agreement indicates, it is ‘founded on the shared belief that all construction workers should be treated with dignity, and live and work in decent and safe conditions’.”
A new technical co-operation programme between the ILO and Qatar will support the transition to a modern industrial relations system, with the UN body establishing an office in the country for the first time.
“The commitments made by the government of Qatar dismantle the kafala system, put in place a minimum wage and start to build freedom of association rights for migrant workers who will now be able to elect representatives on workplace committees,” said Burrow.
In December 2016, Qatar was slammed by the ITUC for their weak reforms which were essentially “new labels for old laws, perpetuating modern slavery.”
Playfair Qatar said at the time: “We’ve heard many promises from Qatar and very few of those promises have been fulfilled so far.”
Since being awarded the World Cup in 2010, it is estimated that over 1,200 workers have died and that a possible 7,000 could die before a ball is kicked.