The government department in charge of constructing Qatar’s new roads, highways, schools and hospitals may soon force its contractors to provide their employees with minimum living and worker conditions, a human rights advocacy group has said.
At a press conference late Thursday afternoon, Human Rights Watch researcher Nick McGeehan said he was told by individuals “close to the government” that Qatar’s public works authority, Ashghal, will require its contractors to follow a workers’ code of conduct.
Similar “worker’s charters” have been adopted by Qatar Foundation (QF) and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is overseeing the country’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup.
The standards were introduced by the two organizations responsible for many of the country’s most prominent construction projects following international criticism of human rights abuses of migrant workers in Qatar.
These include employers using exploitative recruitment practices, forcing workers to live in overcrowded and substandard housing and not paying employees on time.
The organizations’ codes of conduct stipulate that any company bidding to work on their projects must provide a minimum standard of living and working conditions for its employees.
In the case of the Supreme Committee’s Workers’ Welfare Standards, these requirements include allowing employees to keep their passports and only using recruitment firms that don’t charge migrants fees, as well as a ban on bunk beds in labor camps.
Human rights advocates have noted that while the standards are a welcome development, they only cover a fraction of Qatar’s massive migrant labor workforce.
If Ashghal were to adopt and enforce similar measures, however, many of the country’s construction and manpower firms that provide substandard accommodations and working conditions would find themselves shut out of a large portion of the country’s infrastructure projects.
An Ashghal spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
McGeehan highlighted the adoption of these conduct codes by QF and local World Cup organizers as a positive development in Qatar, which he concedes has become a “lightening rod” for criticism of migrant worker abuses that occur throughout the region.
However, he said it was still too early to assess the effectiveness of the conduct codes in improving local living and working standards, and cautioned that they are no substitute for national reforms.
“We’ll never accept a two-tier labor system,” McGeehan said. “It’s not sufficient for Qatar to simply say, ‘We’ve protected the guys building the stadiums’ … This should be a blueprint for reform, not a way of circumventing state-led reform.”
Yesterday’s press conference, held to launch the latest edition of HRW’s annual report that documents human rights practices in dozens of countries, also touched on the limited progress on reforming Qatar’s sponsorship (kafala) system.
Government officials proposed changes last May that were endorsed by the country’s business community several months later.
The changes were supposed to come into effect in late 2014 or early this year and include measures aimed at making it easier for expats to change jobs and leave the country, as well as harsher penalties for passport confiscation and non-payment of wages.
McGeehan reiterated yesterday that the measures fall short of what HRW had expected and called on Qatar to abolish the exit permit system outright and announce a firm timeline for implementing reforms.
Freedom of expression
HRW also called on local authorities to release Qatari poet Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami, who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence after being recorded reciting verses that were indirectly critical of the country’s ruling family.
McGeehan called the conviction a violation of al-Ajami’s right to freedom of expression.
However, McGeehan said it was also important to note that compared to some neighboring countries, Qatar is a leader in allowing free speech and highlighted how HRW can visit the country, meet with government leaders and speak to the media unimpeded.
“Although we don’t necessarily agree with the Qatari government on many issues – and they don’t agree with us on issues – we’re able to talk freely about it. In other countries in the region, we simply can’t do that,” he said. “We hope that Qatar can maintain that status.”
It’s the same game over again: let’s issue a law. No word about the implementation, no word about the control, no word about the penalties. In other words: it’s the usual bullshyte.
They just inundate the world with thousands of new edicts, laws to discuss, rules to mull over…with the thought that the world is confused thinking something is really going on.
Great step. Will be happy when it is implemented.
This is boring! Doha news; update me when someone takes ownership and takes actions or wake me up when it’s all over!
If Ashgal signs up, then that is a huge step forward as that covers so many activities in Qatar. Well at least some action is being taken, however I know some will come on here and complain and say where’s my NOC.
If only something could be done against the Embassies as well who collide with agencies back home to charge huge recruitment fees to their own people. The POEA is a great example of something on paper that is set up to protect Filipinos but it realities is there to rob them and enrich politicians and bureaucrats off the hard work of OFWS.
Bet the white collar expat personnel in Ashghal offices require Exit Permits when wish to leave the country….
…..think we require a holistic action on all worker rights – white and blue collar.
A lot of ‘mulling’ has been going for years now, aren’t they getting tired?
I think they mistakenly heard MULLAHS.
If mulling was a sport…
Shhhh! – I swear that glacier just moved?
Don’t get your hopes up. They are only at the ‘mulling over’ stage yet. Then they have to think about it. Then meetings to discuss their thoughts. Then hire an outside consultant to come in and assess (again) the standards of living these poor guys have to suffer in. Then they will have to discuss the impact on the contractors profits if improvements are made. Then they will come up with some watered down halfhearted changes and by the time they actually get them ratified in law it will be of such minor change as to be useless and even that won’t be implemented to any great degree. But they will have looked really good whilst thinking about doing something.
I’m sitting in my car at the traffic lights, and in the next lane a bus pulls up, full of workers in blue overalls. Windows wide open because there’s no a/c. These poor guys just look dead behind their eyes.. I’ll never get used to it. Burns me up every time it happens.
I wonder all the time what they’re thinking. “I’m so glad to be here sweating through my unwashed coverall for pennies” or “God be merciful and let me go home to my wife and kids I haven’t seen in 2 years”.
I could not have expressed my feelings better than you.
Yep another three weeks has gone by and it’s time again to give the impression that something is happening. I’ll mark my calendar ready for the next astounding headline.
If this charter is really good then why cant they have the same common charter for all the workers instead of trying to complicate the issue and having different sets of rules which the employers seem to be taking advantage of to mistreat their employees
The government should also consider to provide better facilities to the workers at the airport.When they land in Doha many have to wait for hours before their agents arrive and can clear them .The arrivals area should have economic water and food areas which the workers (90% traffic) can afford.There should be pay phones at the arrivals which can be used to communicate with their people in Qatar and outside.Without these facilities the workers spend a lot of time hungry thirsty and baffled.A very cold welcome to the state of Qatar.