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The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) decision to finally put an end to its long-standing, somewhat cynical posture on the labour-related issues in Qatar in its year-end discussion on Wednesday, November 8,Geneva, is not just a vindication of Doha’s persistent effort to convey to the world that it is doing what is needed, and the only one to do so in the Gulf region, to make living standards suitable and prosperous for the over 2.2-million-strong migrant workers.

It says Qatar is willing to listen, and is okay with course-correction.

The Government Communication office (GCO), on Wednesday, was relieved to release a thankful statement: “The State of Qatar welcomes the statement by ILO, which says it will close its 2014 complaint against Qatar. Their announcement is an acknowledgement of the important steps our Government has taken to develop a modern labour system that is fair to employers and employees, alike”.

“Qatar’s 2030 vision recognised the need for better living and working conditions for its foreign workforce even before contractors broke ground on World Cup sites. In recent years, Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Welfare, initiated a sweeping new programme to upgrade workers’ housing by creating modern accommodations for the nation’s migrant labourers,” the statement further added.

Provision of healthcare facilities for the migrant labourers is also a big factor in mind. According to GCO, construction of three modern hospitals and four new health centers for migrant workers is in full swing. In addition, a new labour contract system has been inaugurated. A wage-protection system has been put in place, too.

Despite being attacked for alleged indifference to workers’ living and working condition by various organisations, Qatar has engaged with NGOs like the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), to establish best labour practices, the statement read. It added: “Qatar will continue to work closely with them to ensure that the workers’ rights are not just guaranteed, but developed in parallel with international standards.”

The ILO complaint was a setback to the integrity of Qatar, and it took it very seriously. Reaction or not, it developed a “comprehensive programme of technical co-operation to ensure the reforms aligned with ILO’s best practices.” Qatar is developing a timeline for full implementation.

What Qatar is today is a consequence of the hard work that millions of workers from the South and South-East Asia have put in. They are the standing testimony to the country’s growth, and the State expressed its deepest gratitude. “The Government will continue to upgrade their living and working standards. We will set the highest standards for human rights.”

It may be a ghost in the past now, with the commission of enquiry gone, but the trauma that the three-year-long difficulty brought should be a lesson not just for Qatar. While hundred-year-long traditions may be difficult to negotiate, it is courage that separates the wannabes from the real ones.

It appears, for Qatar, courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to walk through it.

Reem Saad / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A UN agency has granted Qatar even more time to address allegations of “forced labor” before deciding whether the country should be sanctioned.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) decided yesterday to continue monitoring Qatar for human rights violations until November of this year.

When it convenes in eight months time, it will revisit whether to open a Commission of Inquiry, its highest investigative mechanism.

ILO/Facebook

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

According to those who attended this week’s meeting, about 18 governments weighed in on the decision.

Some of them, including the UAE and Sudan, two Qatar allies, urged the complaint to be dropped altogether, but were unsuccessful.

Pressure is on

The ILO has been investigating allegations by unions against Qatar since last year, and visited the nation to inspect working conditions for expats.

Last March, the UN agency decided to give Qatar a year to work on the issues at hand, as the country was in the middle of changing its laws.

Shabina S. Khatri / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Authorities did implement some labor reforms in December. But they did not completely do away with the exit permit system or no objection certificate requirement to change jobs.

This has drawn the ire of many rights groups, including Amnesty International.

Speaking to Doha News yesterday, James Lynch, deputy director of Amnesty’s Global Issues Program, hailed the ILO’s decision. He said it would keep the pressure on Qatar, as “half-hearted reforms” are not enough.

He continued:

“Since the complaint was first brought in 2014, the government has done little to change the power imbalance between employers and migrant workers.

Between now and November, Qatar needs to tackle the fundamentals. It should start by genuinely abolishing the exit permit system so that employers have no right to interfere in a migrant worker’s ability to leave the country.”

Strides made

For its part, Qatar has not publicly commented on the ILO proceedings.

However, in a document it sent to the UN agency last month, officials outlined various pieces of legislation aimed at safeguarding workers.

Peter Kovessy / Doha News

Residents line up at a bank to open accounts ahead of the start of WPS in 2015.

This includes the new labor reforms, the Wage Protection System (WPS) and a draft law protecting house help.

It also pledged to increase the number of inspectors on construction sites, establish a complaint hotline for abused expats and conduct a study to gain insight into the conditions and sentiments of blue-collar workers in Qatar.

Thoughts?

Alex Gill/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar will face the International Labor Organization (ILO) tomorrow to defend itself against allegations of “forced labor.”

The ILO voted to investigate complaints filed by unions last year, and even visited Qatar to inspect working conditions for expats.

The complaint asserted that Qatar “fails to maintain a legal framework sufficient to protect the rights of migrant workers consistent with international law and to enforce the legal protections that currently do exist.”

Shrief Fadl/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

It also lambasted Qatar’s former kafala sponsorship law, calling it “among the most restrictive in the Gulf region” because it makes it hard to leave an abusive employer.

The ILO had the option to recommend the establishment of a commission of inquiry, its highest investigative mechanism, to take a closer look at the complaints.

But last March, it decided to give Qatar a year to work on the issues, as the country was in the middle of changing its laws.

Kafala changes

Qatar officials submitted a document to the ILO last month, outlining its labor rights progress in recent years.

It highlighted several legislative changes, including Law No. 21 of 2015, which took effect in December.

Qatar called the legislation a “repeal of kafala.”

Craig Sunter/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The new sponsorship law does indeed make it easier for expats to leave the country and change jobs.

But foreigners are still required to obtain exit permits from their employers.

And while it is now easier for some people to switch jobs, the no objection certificate requirement has not been abolished.

Instead, only workers on fixed-term contracts can now change jobs after their contract is completed without an NOC.

Those on open-ended contracts must work for five years before being able to do so. And all foreigners would need labor ministry approval before taking up new employment.

Domestic worker rights

The progress report also included information about a draft law on domestic workers, which Qatar’s Cabinet approved last month.

This legislation would provide legal protection to Qatar’s nannies, drivers and cooks by creating a common contract for them.

Mopaw Foundation/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Currently, these workers are not required to sign contracts with their employers and cannot file complaints against them with the Ministry of Labor.

According to the document submitted to the ILO, the law would establish a 10-hour workday with periods for rest and food.

It would also mandate one day off a week. However, it is unclear how the law would be enforced, as inspectors are not usually sent to people’s homes to look for labor violations.

What’s next

Rights groups are closely watching this week’s session, and have urged the ILO not to close the complaint against Qatar.

Last week, Amnesty International urged that the process continues. James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty’s Global Issues Program, said in a statement:

“This is a critical juncture for migrant workers in Qatar. The government has made some public commitments in response to ILO pressure, but its claims that it has abolished the sponsorship system simply do not add up.

If the ILO governing body endorses Qatar’s inadequate reforms by dropping this complaint, this could have damaging consequences for migrant rights in Qatar and across the region.”

Thoughts?