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UN labour body drops case against Qatar over migrant worker rights

World Cup host Qatar faced international pressure to reform its labour laws [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 November, 2017

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World Cup host Qatar has agreed to far-reaching labour reforms to improve conditions for migrant workers, after coming under pressure from the International Labour Organisation and human rights groups.
The UN's labour agency has dropped a case against Qatar over its treatment of migrant workers, after Doha committed to improving rights for foreigners.

The decision by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) spares Qatar an inquiry into its treatment of migrant workers, which had overshadowed the Gulf state's preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar last month committed to far-reaching reforms, including introducing minimum wage, allowing workers freedom to leave the country and change jobs without their employer's permission.

"The ILO welcomes the commitment of Qatar to engage in substantive cooperation with the Organisation for the promotion and protection of workers' rights," said Guy Ryder, ILO's director general.

Human rights groups, long critical of Qatar's treatment of its mostly Asian foreign workers, welcomed the agreement but said Doha must now follow up its pledges with firm action.

"Around two million workers in all kinds of sectors will now enjoy better protection, including a dispute settlement system, also accessible for the extremely vulnerable domestic workers," Luc Cortebeeck, chair of the ILO governing body, told reporters.

Qatar's labour minister Issa bin Saad Al Jafali Al Nuaimi told the ILO forum on Wednesday that the government was working to achieve decent work conditions for domestic and migrant workers and has established committees for labour disputes.

"Qatar will remain mindful (about) guaranteeing all rights of workers," he said, adding that Doha is committed to a three-year programme of technical cooperation with the ILO.

Qatar has set a new standard for the Gulf States (that) must be followed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where millions of migrant workers are trapped in modern slavery

The complaint against Qatar "originated out of a deep concern about exploitation exposing almost two million workers to forced labour," Catelene Passchier, spokeswoman for the workers' group at the ILO governing board, said.

"While we welcome and support this agreement between the ILO and Qatar, we emphasise that nice words and good intentions are not sufficient. Implementation of these intentions in law and practice is critical," she said.

Since being selected to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010, Qatar has launched massive construction projects and faced huge international pressure to reform its labour laws.

In February 2015, Qatar introduced the Wage Protection System, designed to ensure workers receive their salaries electronically, either fortnightly or monthly.

Last December, Qatar also announced the end of its much-criticised 'kafala' system, under which all foreign workers needed a local sponsor in order to work, maintain residency, switch jobs or leave the country.

Doha's recent reforms could set the precedent for other Gulf nations, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharan Burrow, said, who was once one of the country's sharpest critics.

"Qatar has set a new standard for the Gulf states (that) must be followed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where millions of migrant workers are trapped in modern slavery," she said.

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