Browsing 'labor' News

For illustrative purposes only.

Peter Kovessy

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Work is underway on fitting out a new labor camp north of Doha that government officials hope will raise accommodation standards for blue-collar workers across the country.

The camp is in Umm Slal and will serve as a “home away from home” for some 24,000 men, management said.

When it is completed by the end of 2017, it will be the first of seven planned “integrated communities” across Qatar that will eventually accommodate a total of 179,000 low-income expats.

Described as a complete town containing mosques, medical buildings, laundry areas, catered dining halls and other amenities, the Umm Slal project will be constructed by three development teams, each of which were assigned a plot of land in December.

A rendering of a new labor camp for blue-collar expats.

Daruna Development

A rendering of a new labor camp for blue-collar expats.

Officials said at the time that it hoped the new camps would allow expats to lead a “dignified life” and reduce the country’s dependence on older, decrepit labor camps that have been criticized by international human rights advocates.

The Umm Slal project hit a milestone late last month when Daruna Development – which is building on one of the plots with Gulf Systems – awarded a QR144 million contract to Saudi Arabia-headquartered Red Sea Housing Services Co. to construct housing for 4,000 tenants.

Speaking to Doha News this week, Daruna CEO Michael Murphy said:

“We are implementing the government’s vision to provide high-standard worker (housing) in the country.”

He estimated the total capital cost of the project to be QR200 million.

Demand

Murphy said approximately 40 percent of the 4,000 units have been pre-leased, primarily to construction firms. He declined to identify specific tenants.

The pre-leasing activity suggests that some companies in Qatar are willing to pay a premium to house their workers in modern accommodation with recreational amenities and clean dining facilities, which are absent from many older housing blocks.

Murphy declined to discuss the specific rates his company will charge clients, but government officials said in December that the monthly rent would be capped at QR650 per tenant.

Murphy told Doha News that the quality of the housing demanded by the government means prices have to be higher than some of the labor camps currently on the market.

However, several organizations – such as Qatar Foundation, Qatar Rail and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – require their contractors to use housing that meets certain standards.

At the same time, new housing developments such as the recently opened Labor City are being constructed to meet this need.

Labor City

Peter Kovessy

Labor City

The rent cap is also seen as one way of making these newer developments accessible to smaller firms.

Some observers have previously questioned whether Qatar’s most vulnerable expats would end up living in these new developments.

Critics have suggested that the companies willing and able to pay a premium to house their employees are most likely to be large firms that already treat their staff better than some smaller subcontractors or staffing firms.

The pre-leasing of the Umm Slal development also comes despite projections that demand for labor camps in Qatar will soon start to subside.

The facility will open around the time that government planners expect Qatar’s construction workforce to peak before declining off as the most labor-intensive stages of the country’s massive infrastructure building boom are completed.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Anthony/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, Murphy said there would still be plenty of demand for Daruna’s housing.

“Even with the market tapering off, Qatar has just set a record for its population,” he noted.

The new government-planned housing units will theoretically only be able to accommodate a fraction of Qatar’s blue-collar workforce.

Government statistics show there were some 762,000 expat men working in construction and manufacturing in 2014. While not all are low-income workers, it’s still more than four times the number of individuals that can be housed in the government’s seven planned “integrated communities.”

Amenities

Murphy said the Umm Slal development will have retail space, a mosque, sports fields, laundry service and a kitchen serving three “culturally sensitive” meals a day.

“We treat our workers like guests,” he said. “It’s a home away from home for these workers.”

A rendering of a new labor camp for blue-collar expats.

Daruna Development

A rendering of a new labor camp for blue-collar expats.

Last year, Daruna signed a contract with a technology firm for equipment that would allow the location of tenants to be electronically monitored.

Murphy told Doha News on Thursday that the system allows individuals to carry a single keycard to unlock their room as well as pay for small purchases, such as a haircut or snacks.

He said there were no restrictions on residents’ movement within the camps. “We don’t track the workers,” he said. “(They) are free to leave during their spare time.”

Daruna previously proposed a 6,000-bed development in Wukair.

However, Murphy said the company was unable to secure the required zoning changes as the government was encouraging private firms to participate in its integrated communities initiative rather than undertake their own projects.

Thoughts?

Labor camp

Penny Yi Wang / Doha News

A labor camp in Qatar

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.”

Legal journey

Workers in Qatar exit bus.

Richard Messenger / Flickr

Workers in Qatar exit a bus.

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.”

Solutions

Empty wallet

PayDay Savvy/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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.

Government action

New MOLSA kiosk.

ADLSA

New MOLSA kiosk.

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

Thoughts?

 For illustrative purposes only

Victor1558 / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Reducing the number of expat workers in the Gulf is expected to be one of the key issues on the agenda of an upcoming meeting between GCC government ministers next month.

A team, headed by the UAE’s labor minister, has drafted an initial policy to “harmonize” recruitment practices throughout the region and phase in a program to cut the number of expats in the states’ workforce, Qatar Tribune reports.

The draft policy will be presented at the 31st session of the GCC Labor and Social Affairs Ministers, which will be held in Kuwait in November. The newspaper quotes Aqeel Ahmed Al Jassim, the director general of the executive bureau of the council’s labor ministers, as saying:

“The decision to stop the recruitment of expatriate workers cannot be taken immediately but there are programs and plans aimed at reducing the number.”

Other Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia have previously launched efforts to reduce the number of expats in the workforce.

However, initiatives in Qatar currently focus on reserving a certain percentage of jobs for nationals, rather than limiting the influx of foreign workers.

Expat reductions

The main focus of the GCC study will be on jobs that could be filled by Gulf nationals, Al Jassim said.

photologue_np/Flickr

GCC member states, including Qatar, have had in place employment nationalization programs for years, with targets and other incentives for public and private sector organizations to employ Gulf nationals.

In August, Qatar’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs announced its latest push in this area by setting up a new committee to further encourage private businesses to give at least 20 percent of their jobs to Qataris.

Currently, expats overwhelmingly dominate Qatar’s private sector.

According to a Labor Force survey conducted last year by the Ministry of Development, Planning and Statistics, Qataris account for less than 1 percent of the total private sector workforce. Additionally, only 5 percent of employed Qataris hold private-sector jobs.

The National Development Strategy (NDS) 2011-16 seeks to boost this figure to 15 percent.

Anecdotally, sectors such as human resources and administration are now said to be dominated by Qataris, delegates at the recent How Women Find Work conference heard.

Domestic workers

Separately, Qatar’s Minister of Labor and Social Affairs is heading up a regional team to  look at issues facing domestic workers in the region, and will report on its findings the same ministerial summit.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Dimitris Papazimouris/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A long-awaited unified contract regulating the recruitment and employment of domestic workers across all GCC states is one of the key issues expected to be discussed at this time.

This had been first proposed in early 2013, but then stalled in subsequent talks as member states failed to agree on clauses such as a mandatory day off and maximum working hours.

Earlier this year, Al Jassim said that another draft of the contract would be discussed in November.

The owner of a local recruitment agency, Hamad Mohamed Afeefa, told Al Raya that plans for setting up a permanent committee to examine issues around hiring maids would also be raised at the ministerial meeting.

Government officials and representatives from recruitment agencies would sit on the committee, which would have the power to set up GCC-wide agreements with countries to source domestic labor, the Peninsula said.

Agency regulations

Qatar has recently introduced multiple measures tightening restrictions on recruitment agencies, particularly those supplying manual and construction workers, and launched a month-long inspection campaign in response to a slew of complaints by expats and nationals.

Topping the list of customer frustrations are high agency fees, domestic workers who run away and agencies’ failure to replace women who choose to leave their sponsor.

Additionally, in July, MOLSA announced it would publicly name and shame manpower agencies which were found to have broken the Labor Law (Law No. 14 of 2004) .

The law bans agents from charging fees to recruit workers to Qatar and requires that all expats have a written contract signed before they enter the country.

However, a number of reports have found that some agents here and in the popular labor-sending countries do not follow these rules.

Thoughts?