Harsher penalties for negligent employers and faster processing of labor-related complaints are among the recommendations that a leading expert on Qatar’s expat workforce is scheduled to present to government officials later today.
Andrew Gardner, an associate professor at the University of Puget Sound in the US, also calls for allowing migrants to legally work for other companies while pursuing a case against their employer, as well as additional translation services, as ways of improving migrants’ access to the justice system.
Gardner, who has studied migrant workers in Qatar and elsewhere in the Gulf for more than a decade, co-authored a report released today titled, Labour Migrants and Access to Justice in Contemporary Qatar.
He has documented the frequently cited hardships faced by low-income workers in the Gulf. Many migrants sign contracts in their home country that promise higher wages and different jobs that what await them in Qatar. Once in the country, many have their passports confiscated and are not paid on time or in full.
While human rights activists say the solution lies in an overhaul of Qatar’s sponsorship, or kafala, system that binds most expats to their employer, Gardner’s most recent report focuses on making the justice system more responsive to the needs of blue-collar workers.
“This is where corrections can be instigated and changes can be incrementally made,” he told Doha News.
He said his research suggests that those workers who file labor-related complaints over issues such as non-payment of wages and manage to “make it to the finish line” often receive a favorable ruling, but face hurdles along the way.
Challenges include understanding how to approach the justice system, language barriers, finding transportation to hearings and, in some cases, not having any income as their case proceeds.
“There is some optimism … The real issue is not finally what is getting decided in the courtroom, but it is getting to that point,” Gardner said.
He’s scheduled to meet with several ministers and bureaucrats later today to present his recommendations, which he said are in the interests of both migrants and the government.
“The state wants a better and more responsive justice system, because it’s their tool to manage the (migration) system. And migrants want a better system.”
For many workers who have not been paid, issued a residence permit or have otherwise had their employment contract breached, the journey typically begins at their country’s embassy in Qatar.
If mediation efforts by diplomats fail to resolve the issue, workers are generally advised to file a complaint at one of the Department of Labor Relations’ three branches. This leads to a meeting between the worker and their employer and, according to Gardner’s report, officials say they resolve 90 percent of the 350 to 400 cases received each month at this stage.
However, companies sometimes don’t co-operate or fail to follow through with promises made to the Department of Labor Relations. In such instances, the matter can be escalated to the Labor Court.
However, workers then face fresh challenges and delays, such as being forced to pay a fee of QR500-QR600 for an expert to examine their case, as well as strict requirements for serving company managers with official court notices.
Gardner’s report contains several case studies based on interviews with individual workers, including “Abdus,” who came to Qatar from Nepal to work as a welder:
“He was told that he would earn QR 1000 (US$275) per month, but for his first two months he received only QR 800 (US$220). Then his employer stopped paying him at all and reassigned him to work as a ‘helper,’ first in carpentry and then in construction … (Owed five months salary) he went to the Industrial Area office of the Department of Labor Relations on seven consecutive days. No one from his company appeared at any of the appointments …
“Because his sponsor failed to appear at the Department of Labor Relations, his case was referred to Labor Court. He went to the Labor Court to file his case and was given his first court date for three months later. After that, he was typically given subsequent court dates approximately once per month. At most of these appearances in court, Abdus was simply told to return the following month.
“After several months of unemployment, he began working illegally as a gardener for his brother’s sponsor. In the end, approximately ten months after he filed the initial complaint, Abdus received the court-ordered QR 4500 (US$1,236) in compensation from the company.”
During this legal process, companies typically stop paying the worker and cease providing them with food and accommodations, according to an embassy source cited by Gardner.
This can force the migrant to borrow money from friends, work illegally or obtain assistance from their embassy and serves as a disincentive for workers to pursue their case through to completion.
While the Ministry of Interior can theoretically grant a worker a no-objection certificate allowing them to change sponsors, Gardner recommends making it easier for migrants who have filed a labor complaint to seek alternative employment.
Additionally, he calls for sanctions against employers who fail to pay their employees or otherwise break the law. The report said courts do not currently have the ability to apply disciplinary sanctions against companies, such as financial penalties.
“Without more punitive measures, it is quite easy for abusive employers … (to) stop paying migrants. At worst, they may be forced to pay them (what they’re owed),” Gardner said.
Other recommendations include:
- Giving the Department of Labor Relations the capacity to compel employers and/or sponsors to appear for proceedings and negotiations;
- Make it the responsibility of the Department of Labor Relations, rather than migrants, to pass necessary documentation on to employers;
- The Department of Labor Relations should have follow-up meetings with some of the migrants whose cases it negotiates to assess how often employers fulfil agreements negotiated there;
- Signs in the Department of Labor Relations and Labor Court should be in multiple major languages and translators should be provided;
- Upon winning a case, migrants should be able to quickly receive compensation. Typically, migrants need to file a separate case in order to receive the compensation determined in the initial case.
In recent months, Qatar has taken several steps aimed at making it easier for workers to file grievances against their employers.
This includes setting up multilingual electronic kiosks for workers to lodge complaints and mandating that employees be paid by direct bank deposit, which would more clearly document how much – and when – an individual has been paid.
More broadly, Gardner said the Qatar government is generally receptive to the advice of researchers on migrant issues. He added that contrasts with other Gulf countries with similar issues related to their foreign workforce.
“In the UAE, these issues are off the table. They’s not things that foreigners should be looking at or writing about. Here, these things are entertained,” he said.
Here’s a copy of the full report:
Labour Migrants and Access to Justice in Contemporary Qatar
“Punish employers who don’t pay workers, researcher tells Qatar Gov’t” Govt answer is…”But we as individuals are the employers, we have a minimum 51 percent stake in these companies, we shant be punishing ourselves, thankyou bye bye”.
and the employers habitually keep on doing this things because they know they can get away with it but if the worker is caught working elsewhere to make ends meet or wandering around without a ID and is caught by the police and jailed then this same employer will say he ran away and the guy was absconding so the employer will not have to pay anything at all. In such cases the employers should be made to pay the due wages plus the wages for the months the dispute went on, plus a punitive penalty and all the charges that the worker has incurred to run around to settle this matter
Yep , human rights abuses abound, but the system supports it and Qatar is on the UN Human Rights Council, can you believe it? Shame UN.
Alice in Wonderland ! !
good one lol
Sad that such obvious things actually have to be written in a report…I think that we are to the point now where the only thing that will bring change is a few employers with burlap sacks over their heads being taken for drives in the desert and having the errors of their ways explained to them. I’m not saying that I encourage such a thing, but really, what else will make people change?
Let’s face it one of the biggest culprits in this mess are the embassies themselves. (I’m not absolving the employers or the government in this statement)
The embassies of Nepal and India to name two are complicit in the abuse of their nationals. They give no support to their nationals in trouble as they are too scared to upset their Qatari hosts and probably make money out of this human trafficking themselves. (Or through agents or contacts back home) . When one lady at the Nepalese embassy dared to speak out they replaced her and issued an apology.
These embassies allow the cycle of abuse to continue from their home countries to Qatar and then in a body bag back to home. These ambassadors have no shame, pretty words while making sure the ‘revenue’ steams are protected off the backs of their own people.
Agree entirely. The Nepal Embassy now obliges the use of ‘registered’ agents. These agents take extortionate sums from prospective employees for the privilege. Thus responsible employers are unable to recruit from Nepal without their prospective employees being heavily penalised financially. In addition the Embassy imposes minimum wage rates which are often above the going rate. The effect of this is that responsible employers tend to look to other countries for labour while the bad employers are completely undeterred. They simply promise the official rate and then pay something much less. So through the efforts of the Embassy the average worker is less likely to get a job and if he does is more likely to find himself working for a rogue employer.
How can you punish employers who themselves are part of the political system/royal family members/Shoura councils/Semi-Government Board Members ??
And how about punishing the employers of the employers? Another example today on the BBC – http://www.bbc.com/news/business-30295183
How many studies can Qatar actually contract out for such obvious things. Whether it be education, driving hazards or workers rights. My 5 yr old could “consult” on all these matters for a years supply of lollipops with the same reccomendations. Not the millions I’m sure shelled out for the most idiotic “studies” and then ignored by the Qatari Government.
I have joined excelledIa quality consultants on 10th Nov 2014 and worked till 26th Nov ‘ 2014.
I have joined them on a 2 year contract and all of a sudden they have booked a ticket for my return by Kuwait airways on (today), i.e., 27 Nov 2014 17.45 hrs, without giving me even time to meet the labour dept. to lodge a complaint about their cheating attitude.
The salary agreed was 15000QAR PER MONTH.
CEO Mr.Farooque of excelledia had told me that THEY WILL SEND THE SALARY ONLY TO MY INDIA ACCOUNT after a week AND WILL NOT GIVE IT IN HAND.
They have sent me to India without paying anything except booking flight tickets and 500 QAR on the day of arrival.
They have till today had not sent any salary and on enquiry, they are telling that they will not pay a penny out of my salary, which is nothing but a cheating act. Mr.Farooque and Harish Nair told me that “you can’t do anything as Qatar has no WPS like UAE” and we are having a very strong Sponsor.
I was informed by a certification body in India that they have also confirmed that they had a similar experience and the beggers of Excelledia Quality Consulting had cheated them also.
(The pathetic part is that they have got a chance to implement IMS, where as they do not know even how to address the design till I address them. I have worked for the Qatar Olympic committee Project during the period of my stay writing procedures along with flow charts apart from doing other jobs like defining Quality Policy, Quality objectives, addressing design by validation for QOC. Once it is completed they have informed me that they do not want my services and asked me to go back to India).
Without knowing the effects of failure, Mr.Farooque and Maheswaran have asked me why I have informed about the need for the Design Validation to Qatar Olympic Committee.
I have informed them that if the playgrounds are not validated by the contractor/outsourced company for level, free from slopes, uneven surface, camper, flatness, roughness of ground (so that it neither it leads to slips of the player nor damaging the sole of the player), parallelism, squareness before handover by simulating the conditions, it will spoil the name of the country QATAR itself which in turn will affect the reputation of QOC as well as Excelledia Quality Consulting.
It is because of the technical incapability of Excelledia Quality Consulting, they do not like me informing about the design validations to QOC and according to Maheswran Natarajan, it will become a 2 year job for them.
We are forced to work from 8 AM to 8pm and our official working hours is 8 am to 6 pm (kindly REFER THE EMPLOYMENT OFFER) APART FROM 6 DAYS A WEEK I.E 60 HRS A WEEK, which is against the QATAR LAW.
Also the working hours is
In fact they are searching for excuses to refuse the salary disbursement.
I am attaching following copies of:
1. The mails sent by them
2. My passport
3. VISA sent by them
4. Scanned in and out of QATAR immigration pages
5. Appointment order sent by them
Kindly arrange to get my salary. It is very sorry to inform you that these type of employers will only spoil the image of the country and their licence/s have to be cancelled like UAE. (Till 20th Jan 2015).
My India no. Is +919543754937.
My UAE No. is +971525610157
*Thanks & Regards,*
“DO IT RIGHT FIRST TIME AND EVERY TIME”