Browsing 'human rights' News

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By Rose Herrera

Filipina expat Rose Herrera has worked in Qatari and expat households in Doha for 24 years. She is about to leave her existing sponsor, who is moving back to their home country.

Here, she explains the trials facing some domestic workers looking for fair employment, and calls on employers to treat her colleagues with respect and dignity.

I am a housemaid and nanny, working here in Qatar for more than two decades. I’m currently working with a family who I’ve been with for more than five years.

I have been lucky to have them because they treated me nicely, as a member of their family. But now they are leaving Qatar for good and the time will come for me to move on. I’m gonna miss them.

I have had good conditions with them, not like other housemaids and nannies that I sometimes meet.

Long days

Many maids work long hours – more than 10 hours a day. Some of them have no day off a week – even on a Friday, they are still working.

And it’s physically hard work. Usually I clean the bathrooms, tidy up around the house, dust and mop all the floors, vacuum, iron if I have time. Then I have lunch and a rest before the children come home from school.

Pixabay

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Some days I am very tired, especially if I’ve had a very busy day.

I know other maids who have curfews, so they can’t go out for an evening during the weekend.

And they have a small salary – some of them get QR1,500 or QR1,600 a month.

One recent report said this is the average now for a maid in Qatar. But in my experience, it is not enough to live on, especially as many maids need to buy their own toiletries and phone cards.

Supporting my family

I came to Qatar after my father died, and I supported my two sisters through high school and college, as well as my mother. At first, I sent almost all my money home every month and had nothing left to spend on myself.

People ask me why I’ve stayed here so long, but I have lots of family in the Philippines to look after.

I send home about QR1,200 each month normally.

That goes to food and electricity for my 12 year-old daughter and my mother, a small allowance to buy my daughter things she needs for school, medicine for my mom and of course school fees. I want my daughter to go to college and get a good job.

Pixabay

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I also support my 17-year-old niece, as her mother doesn’t have a job and her father is not around.

If it’s a special occasion, like birthdays, I’ll send more home for cakes and small presents.

For Christmas, all my salary goes home so my daughter and mother can each have a new dress.

Before I got married, I saved enough money to build a house, where my daughter and mother now live.

It still needs the kitchen to be finished and painted throughout, so I’m trying to save some money for that too.

Better future

Many housemaids in Qatar are in a similar position to me – some have more children, three or four.

They have to pay all those school fees and budget for their food. And many of them are single moms, so they are the only ones earning money for their family.

Shrief Fadel/Flickr

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I think the minimum a maid should earn here is QR2,000. That would give them money to buy what they need, and still a little to send home to their families.

The reason we are here is to make some money for our children and parents in our home countries.

We sacrifice our lives for them so they can get a good education, get a degree and have a better paying job.

Wages in the Philippines are very low. If I had stayed there, I don’t know if I could have sent my daughter to high school.

Locked in

Some nannies aren’t very lucky. I know maids who have been harassed and mistreated by their employers, or given little food.

Some employers don’t even give their housemaid or nanny a day off, or if they do, it’s a limited time and as soon as they reach their home, they still have work to do.

I know of at least one maid who was locked inside the house when the family went away for the summer vacation.

Other maids are not allowed to leave their compound without their sponsor, or even talk to other maids inside the compound.

Brian Evans/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

And some sponsors don’t give us Qatar holidays off, like Eid Al Adha, Eid Al Fitr, National Day or Sport Day.

Having a day off and away from the house is a big help for homesickness. I have family here, but others are very lonely.

Getting together with friends – going to church, having lunch, going to the Corniche or the park – it is the best medicine because you have someone to speak to and for a few hours, forget about work and the problems of the week, and just talk and laugh together.

Stewart Lacey/Flickr

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Some housemaids have worked in Qatar for five or 10 years, but when their sponsor leaves for good, they aren’t given any benefits like end of service.

Others still have their passports held by their employer, which is illegal. And some don’t have a (Hamad) health card, so they are obliged to pay for their own.

I saw the new law for maids (Domestic Workers Law, No. 15 of 2017, signed by the Emir last month) and I was happy to see holiday leave, flights home and other rights for housemaids and nannies.

We hope that we can all avail of these mandatory rules by the Emir to help us live a decent life in Qatar.

Thoughts?

Reem Saad / Doha News

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Qatar should “immediately replace” its summer work ban with a new system that better protects laborers from the heat, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in a new report.

Since 2007, it has been illegal to work outdoors in Qatar during peak hours at the height of summer.

But that doesn’t take into account how hot the weather is in May and September.

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Instead, HRW proposed a “climate-based work ban.” This would legally require employers to regularly measure heat, humidity and sunshine levels and prohibit outdoor work when these are too high.

A similar system is already used for Qatar’s World Cup workers, but they account for a small fraction of the country’s 800,000-plus blue-collar labor force.

In a statement, Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East Director, said:

“If Qatar’s World Cup organizers can mandate a climate-based work ban, then the Qatar government can follow its lead as a step towards providing better protection from heat for all workers.”

Migrant deaths

HRW’s push comes as summer winds down in Qatar.

But the report also precedes a meeting by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in November, during which it will decide whether to officially investigate Qatar for alleged “forced labor.”

Also this week, HRW urged greater transparency on migrant workers’ deaths to see if they are heat-related.

Reem Saad

For illustrative purposes only

The age, gender, occupation and cause of death of all migrant workers for the past five years should be published by the government, it said.

Unexplained deaths should be investigated – by autopsy, if necessary, and the real cause of death should be detailed on death certificates, HRW added.

Qatar’s response

In response to the new report, officials in Qatar stressed that the summer work ban is being enforced, and companies have been shut down for violating it.

In a statement, Government Communication Office Director Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al Thani added:

“Qatar is committed to its labor reform program and is constantly reviewing its policies to ensure that migrant workers receive the necessary on-site protections.”

The issues raised by HRW are not exclusive to Qatar.

SCDL

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Other Gulf countries have similar climates, and they too have bans on outdoor work only for a specific, pre-set period of the year.

However, as host of the World Cup in 2022, Qatar faces increased scrutiny by international labor rights groups for its treatment of workers.

World cup workers

There are currently some 800,000 migrant workers on building projects across the country.

Just a fraction of those – around 12,000 or 1.5 percent of the total construction workforce – are employed on World Cup sites, which are regulated by the Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy (SCDL).

Reem Saad / Doha News

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This body imposes stricter rules on its contractors regarding the treatment of workers than is required by law.

For example, the SCDL uses a humidex system to regularly measure humidity and temperature, and adjusts work-rest ratios for its workers accordingly.

HRW acknowledged these as “creditable” steps, compared to what it described as “rudimentary and inadequate heat laws” for the vast majority of workers toiling outdoors.

However, even this system does not take into account sunshine levels, which HRW argues can “significantly increases the risk of heat stress.”

Transparency in deaths

HRW also called on Qatar to issue more information on the deaths of migrant workers. This is in line with recommendations made in a 2014 government-commissioned report by law firm DLA Piper.

Transparent data would help assess the true affects of heat stress on outdoor laborers, it argued.

SCDL

Wakrah Stadium workers – for illustrative purposes only

The HRW report states that figures from the embassies of some labor-sending countries (Bangladesh, India and Nepal) show a total of 520 deaths in 2012. Three quarters of these (385) died of unexplained causes.

Other deaths, particularly of workers in their 20s, were attributed to “heart failure,” without describing the cause.

“As Qatar scales up its FIFA World Cup construction projects, authorities need to scale up transparency about worker deaths that could be heat related, and take urgent steps to end risks to workers from heat,” Whitson said.

Sheikh Saif however pointed out that Qatar submitted data on “all work-related deaths” in 2016 to the ILO in March this year.

Thoughts?

Caitlin Regan/Flickr

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Women in Saudi Arabia will finally be able to drive starting next year, officials have announced.

The news is being celebrated around the world, including in Qatar, where women can legally drive but some local females are sometimes discouraged from doing so.

Saudi’s King Salman signed a royal decree yesterday. It said traffic laws would be amended so that driver’s licenses could be issued “to men and women alike.”

According to the Saudi Press Agency, the decree added:

“We refer to the negative consequences of not allowing women to drive vehicles and the positive aspects of allowing it to do so, taking into consideration the application of the necessary legal controls and adherence to them.”

Who’s eligible

The new policy will apply to Saudi residents, as well as any female visitors who have a driver’s license from another Gulf nation, Arab News reports.

The publication quoted Saudi’s ambassador to the US, Prince Khaled bin Salman, as adding that women will not need to get permission from legal guardians to get a license.

Gulf Driving School

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However, there is still much work to be done before the policy takes effect.

For example, police will need to be trained to interact with female motorists. New drivers would also need to attend school before getting behind the wheel.

A committee is being set up to study such issues and will provide recommendations in 30 days. The prohibition will be lifted on June 24, 2018.

The policy shift comes amid several social and economic changes led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

It is expected to go over well with young people in the kingdom, as well as give Saudi a PR boost internationally amid the Gulf crisis and Yemen war.

Qatar reaction

Despite the ongoing Gulf dispute, which has raised tensions between people in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, many in Doha hailed the good news.

Some, including Maha Al-Ansari, cracked jokes on Twitter:

But speaking to Doha News, Al-Ansari added:

“We (Qataris) are obviously very happy for Saudi. Jokes aside, it’s a win for women’s rights on a global level so thats a positive thing regardless of which country we’re talking about.”

She also noted that even though women can drive in Qatar, some families still consider it to be a taboo issue.

According to Arab News, the current driving ban is seen as a “social issue in the Kingdom, as there is no actual law or religious edict that prohibits it.”

But many women who have tried to drive in the country have faced scorn and even jail time.

In conservative societies like Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Qatar, some worry that allowing a woman to drive could put them in danger, or lead to promiscuity.

Thoughts?