Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2014, 14:40 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Qatar

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Qatar, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd8892b13.html [accessed 19 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 1,759,000
Capital: Doha

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: none reported
Attempted Murders: none reported
Threats: none reported
Injuries: none reported
Arrests: none reported
Imprisonments: none reported
Dismissals: none reported

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

Winning the bid to host the 2022 football world cup has done nothing to improve the lot of 94% of the population: migrant workers who have no union to protect them.

Background

Qatar is one of the richest countries in the Gulf region thanks to its oil and gas reserves. The Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has been in power since 1995 when he deposed his father. He is also head of the armed forces and Minister of Defence. The 2005 Constitution provided for the creation of a parliament in which two thirds of the members must be elected. As no elections have taken place as yet, this has not been implemented, but the Emir announced in November that elections would finally take place in 2013. The new parliament will only have limited powers however.

Qatar won its bid to host the FIFA 2022 world cup.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression but in practice Qatar based media tend to be self-censoring when it comes to reporting on the country's internal situation. Al-Jazeera, based in Doha and financed by the Qatar government, covers little of what goes on in the country. A blogger and founder of a human rights organisation, Sultan al-Khalaifi, was arrested on 12 March by eight people in civilian dress, probably members of the security forces. His house was searched, his computer and his CDs were taken. He was released without charge on 1 April.

Trade union rights in law

Trade union rights are seriously restricted in law. The Labour Code allows for only one trade union: the General Union of Workers of Qatar, made up of General Committees for workers in different trades or industries. Each of the General Committees must have a minimum of 100 members. Government employees as well as non-Qatari nationals are not allowed to organise. Furthermore, a Committees' permissible activities are regulated in the law, and the Minister of Labour may dissolve any Committee that engages in political activity, distributes materials that insult the state or the government, or accepts gifts without the Ministry's approval.

Although trade unions are allowed to bargain collectively, the government controls the rules and procedures for bargaining, including restrictions on the content, scope, duration and interpretation of the agreements. The right to strike is recognised, but it is very difficult to carry out a lawful strike. Three-fourths of the General Committee must approve of the strike, and the time and place for the strike must be approved by the Ministry of Labour. A lengthy dispute resolution procedure must also be exhausted before a lawful strike can be called. Civil servants and domestic workers are not allowed to strike, and no worker in a public utility, health or security service can strike if it harms the public or causes damage to property. Workers in petroleum- and gas-related industries, seaports and all forms of transportation fall under this category.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

The "constituent labour committee" does not inspire confidence: In December the local media reported that the authorities intended to create a "constituent labour committee" that would be one step towards the creation of a trade union confederation, and whose task would be to protect workers' rights. The 50 members of the committee were to be representatives of workers in the public and private sectors. However there was nothing to suggest that the workers would have any say in the appointment of these "representatives". It appeared, rather, that the committee would be under government control.

No trade union rights for 94% of the working population:

In its bid to host the World Cup, Qatar embarked on a project to build nine new stadiums and renovating three more, in just ten years. A task that would be impossible to achieve without the support of migrant workers, as only 6% of the working population is Qatari. It is estimated that about one million new migrant workers will have to be recruited. They will join ranks with the 1.2 million migrant workers already living in Qatar (most from Pakistan, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), 506,000 of whom work in the construction industry.

Very many of these migrant workers suffer severe exploitation: very low wages (often less than they were promised before they left home), delayed or unpaid wages, extreme occupational health and safety risks, confiscated passports, appalling housing conditions, etc. The authorities have announced projects to improve their situation, including stricter laws to avoid the late payment of wages or the exploitative practices of the recruitment agencies. It is unlikely however that they will be prepared to abolish the laws banning migrant workers from enjoying the freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. The law allows for the formation of "workers committees" in enterprises that employ at least 100 Qataris, but migrants do not have the right to join.

On 17 November the ITUC, the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) and the Swiss trade union "Unia" handed over a letter to the President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, informing him that unless Qatar upholds labour rights, the international trade union movement will campaign against the 2022 World Cup being held there.

Migrant workers still tied to their employers:

Migrant workers are recruited through a sponsorship system called «kafala»: a local employer must stand as guarantor, and they must usually work for that employer throughout their stay, as they cannot change jobs without the authorisation of the employer. The ILO has stated this system could lead to forced labour and human trafficking. In 2009 the authorities confirmed they could give migrants temporary permits to work elsewhere in the event of a dispute with the guarantor, but few migrant workers are aware of this possibility.

Employers often confiscate migrant workers' passports to make sure they do not leave the country before the end of their contract, even if the terms of the contract are violated. Withholding passports has been illegal since 2009 if it exceeds the time needed to obtain a residence permit, but the local press reported, in March, the results of a survey among Asian migrants: 88% of them said they had had to hand their passport over to their employer.

Domestic workers excluded from labour legislation: About 132.000 migrant domestic workers are employed in Qatar. These women are even more vulnerable to exploitation than other categories of migrants, because domestic work is specifically excluded from labour legislation.

Legal proceedings slow and labour inspection weak:

Legal proceedings are lengthy, making workers wait for months with no pay while they seek reparation for an injustice. Very few migrant workers who have had their rights violated have the necessary financial resources to survive while they wait and so they go back home without taking legal measures.

Moreover, Qatar has barely 150 labour inspectors and the inspections do not include interviews with the workers. It is hard to imagine therefore how the authorities really intend to ensure the respect of their labour legislation.

Violations

No entry for this country for this year

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