In a report released today, Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted progress made in Qatar in protecting migrant workers’ rights, while acknowledging areas for Qatar to improve.
The report notes the legal guarantees made in Law No. 15 on Service Workers in the Home, which came into effect in August 2017. Law No. 15 sets a 10-hour workday, minimum rest periods, required annual leave, and more.
In November 2017, Qatar established a minimum wage for migrant workers. That same month, Qatar also signed an agreement with the International Labor Organization (ILO), a UN agency, to cooperate in enforcing and strengthening Qatar’s legal protections for workers. Concurrent with this agreement, the ILO closed its complaint against Qatar regarding migrant laborer conditions. In April 2018, the ILO opened its first office in Qatar – a key component of the agreement.
The report recommends that Qatar enact and enforce equivalent protections for migrant workers as for Qatari national workers – a reasonable recommendation, although many countries around the world have distinct protections for national and non-national workers. It recommends strengthening protections for worker rest periods, accommodations, food, and health standards, while acknowledging that legislation and enforcement in all those does currently exist. Given Qatar’s three-year agreement with the ILO to strengthen and enforce Qatari labor protections, these additional reforms are more likely than critics might assume.
Qatar is now a leader in the Gulf in instituting and enforcing labor protections.
The relatively narrow recommendations for Qatar reinforces the progress Qatar has made on workers’ rights as it has prepared for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Accelerating that progress was one of the Qatar’s goals when bidding and preparing for the World Cup. As Hassan Al Thawadi, the Secretary General in charge of World Cup preparations, told The New York Times:
No country is perfect. We have issues, and we have challenges… With the World Cup coming on board, of course the spotlight came in, but this is something we recognized. So when we said legacy, we mean the World Cup is an opportunity to be a catalyst for positive change, and to increase the momentum for initiatives that the government was already committed to. And of course worker welfare is one of them.
Qatar has consulted with many international organizations in addition to the ILO to improve its migrant labor regulations, including HRW itself, Amnesty International, Building and Wood Workers’ International, Engineers Against Poverty, the International Trade Union Confederation, and Humanity United. Qatar has also worked with Impactt, an ethical trade consultancy, to audit labor conditions at 2022 FIFA World Cup construction sites. Impactt has conducted 33 total audits, and their results can be viewed online in their External Compliance Report.
Some further reforms enacted by Qatar include protecting workers’ right to exit the country, refunding recruitment fees charged by intermediaries to migrant workers, implementing the Wage Protection System to secure workers’ wages, establishing a minimum wage, and creating a confidential hotline for workers’ grievances. Workers are encouraged to participate in worker welfare forums (WWF) and elect representatives to protect their interests – turnout for the most recent representative election reached 86%.