The subcommittee aims to provide a regular platform for dialogue between elected employees and management.
Qatar Foundation (QF), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the Ministry of Labour have formed a sub-committee for QF contractors’ female workers.
The move aims to ensure women do not feel overlooked and undervalued in the Gulf nation, given that discussions around worker welfare tend to focus on male migrant workers.
“Working thousands of miles away from our families and homes is not easy, particularly for us women. But initiatives like this help keep our morale high. They make us feel like we are more than just a number, that we are cared for, and that our concerns matter,” said Chresthel Joy, from the Philippines, who works as a hospitality worker.
In 2019, Joint Committees were established in Qatar, and as part of the pilot programme with ILO, QF contractors participated. The primary objective of these committees is to bring together management and elected workers’ representatives to collaboratively identify and resolve workplace issues, thus preventing contractor exploitation.
Joint Committees convene once a month, providing a regular platform for dialogue between elected employees and management. Workers can directly convey their concerns to their employer and work together transparently and quickly to resolve issues, with the support and guidance of QF, the ILO and the Qatar Ministry of Labour.
To establish the sub-committee, over 200 contracted female workers in QF were invited to a briefing session to introduce them to the concept of Joint Committees. Following this, some of these women were selected by their peers and voted to become their representatives.
Following their election, 19 representatives underwent additional training to understand their roles and responsibilities better.
Due to separate accommodations for male and female workers, women have limited opportunities to interact with their representatives and raise any concerns they may have. Consequently, female workers often feel that their male representatives do not effectively represent their issues.
“This initiative gives female workers a safe and secure platform to make their voices heard and solve important workplace and accommodation issues,” said Noura H. Al Ibrahim, Workers Welfare Project Manager at QF.
“There are many topics that women may hesitate to voice in a mixed gender environment, and this committee will help ensure they can benefit from the same opportunities and rights as their male counterparts. The most important thing is we made a start. I am confident we will see notable improvements through these open discussions.”
Kenyan Helen Kingori, a cafeteria supervisor at one of QF’s Qatar Academy schools, was part of the mixed-gender joint committee before. However, this time, Kingori has been elected to be a representative of the women’s sub-committee.
“This is different. It feels like a safe space. Being in a room with just other women, I feel like I can talk more openly and that I don’t have to think twice before talking about issues specific to women. It makes me and my colleagues feel empowered,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ajenifuja Anthea from South Africa was elected as the Chairperson for the women’s subcommittee. Her roles include coming up with an action plan for resolving priority issues.
She stated that following the subcommittee’s first meeting, she noticed some training gaps.
“Most of the women don’t know how to calculate their overtime or gratuity. Bridging this training gap is a priority for me. By educating them on their rights, we can empower them. In my opinion, training is particularly important when it comes to remuneration, as money is the reason we are all here,” she said.
Namatoru Prossy, a cleaner from Uganda, considers being elected as a representative as a significant responsibility bestowed upon her by her peers. Her primary focus is to provide upskilling opportunities to workers, as she believes that many employees get stuck performing the same tasks for extended periods, resulting in decreased morale.
To address this issue, she has put forth a proposal.
“If employers could offer a rotation of workplaces, meaning after six months or a year of working in a school, and then we could be moved to an office building,” she explained.
“This is a simple way for us to experience working in different environments, each one of which comes with different challenges and learning experiences and would help us stay motivated.”
Women’s health and safety issues, harassment and discrimination, curfews imposed on women by some employers, transportation issues were among the issues covered during the first meeting. While some of these issues can be resolved quickly, others will require more discussion and wrangling to be resolved.
“By establishing this women’s sub-committee, QF is making an important commitment to building an inclusive environment for women employees from its partner community,” said Marie-Jose Tayah, Technical Specialist for Social Dialogue at the ILO Office in Doha.
“We are hopeful that, through social dialogue, the committee will introduce positive changes to the lives of women workers and inspire other institutions to create these spaces for women workers.”