Lawyer: Human rights report does not reflect reality of workers’ lives in Qatar

Hot on the heels of Human Rights Watch’s report criticizing the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar, Qatar Today has published an article examining the kafala (sponsorship) system in Qatar.

In it, journalist Ezdhar Ali Ibrahim speaks to two prominent Qataris about the report – Mohamed Hassan Al-Obaidli, Director of Legal Affairs at the Labour Ministry, and Yousef Ahmed Al-Zaman, a Qatari lawyer.

Al-Zaman is vocal in his criticism of the HRW report:

“I have my doubts,” he says, “about the credibility of those reports, which have unfortunately shown partiality on many issues… Their criticism of the sponsorship system is not solidly based in the reality of workers’ lives here in Qatar.

The Gulf states have unwittingly laid themselves open to accusations of violating workers’ rights and other exaggerated claims. It all goes back to their being so relaxed about importing labour and opening the gates of immigration to their countries that foreigners now make up the majority of their populations, and Gulf nationals are a small minority amidst this massive aggregation of male workers. No human society has ever seen such a concentration of expatriate workers being welcomed with open arms.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 73 migrant construction workers for their report.

These workers reported a range of issues including unpaid wages, illegal salary deductions, crowded and unsanitary labor camps, and unsafe working conditions. All but four had paid recruitment fees of up to $3,651 per person. 

Al-Obaidli however says he believes the violations mentioned in the report are not representative of the workforce as a whole. 

This is not the picture given by HRW, because that organisation has its own objectives and ways of gathering data. The number of violations in proportion to the number of workers in Qatar is negligible.  On the directions of the Minister we publicise violations of workers’ rights, and soon we will be publishing the names of companies committing violations.”

He does however admit that there are significant problems, and that the government is trying to deal with them, following Deputy Labor Minister Hussein al-Mulla’s announcement in May this year that the government is considering scrapping the kafala system.

We are developing our laws to keep pace with progress.  We don’t claim to be a utopia – yes, there are infringements and problems for workers, but it doesn’t add up to abuse. “

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by SpecialKRB

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