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Rights groups demand protection for migrant workers in Gulf states

International rights and labour organisations demand an end to abuse

International rights and labour groups called yesterday for urgent action to protect migrant workers from abuse in Gulf countries.

Nearly a hundred groups issued a joint statement in preparation for a meeting of Gulf and Asian labour ministers later this week.

They will meet in the third round of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, a forum on worker migration between Asian countries of origin and Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries of destination.

The rights groups warned the ministers that millions of Asian and African workers still face routine abuses including unpaid wages, confiscation of passports, physical violence and forced labour.

“Whether it’s the scale of abuse of domestic workers hidden from public view or the shocking death toll among construction workers, the plight of migrants in the Gulf demands urgent and profound reform,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW) spokeswoman Rothna Begum.

HRW was one of the signatories of the statement along with other groups including Amnesty International, the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Domestic Workers Federation.

The ministers meet on November 26-27 to consider their response to the plight of about 23 million workers, including at least 2.4 million domestic servants, who live in the six-nation GCC, which brings together Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The GCC countries have come under fire over the kafala system of “sponsorship” for migrant workers, which is used to varying extents across the Gulf states.

It stops workers moving to a new job unless they obtain their employer’s consent, trapping many workers in abusive situations.

Non-governmental groups participated in the first two rounds of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue but were not invited this year.

Labour ministers met separately yesterday to discuss a draft contract on domestic workers and the formation of a body to oversee migrant domestic work.

Governments should ratify and implement the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, the ILO Forced Labor Protocol and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the groups said.

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