Browsing 'Molsa' News

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All residents of Qatar are considered equal according to the country’s constitution, a government minister has said in defense of the nation’s labor policies, according to QNA.

Speaking to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) governing body this week, Issa bin Saad Al-Jafali Al-Nuaimi – Qatar’s new minister of administrative development, labor and social affairs – said foreign workers are an important part of the fabric of Qatari society.

Al-Nuaimi’s speech comes amid an ILO investigation into complaints that the country’s sponsorship system facilitates “forced labor” by making it difficult for expats to leave abusive employers.

If the UN agency found there was merit to those accusations, it could have subjected Qatar to a commission of inquiry, the ILO’s highest investigative mechanism.

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جنيف في 23 مارس /قنا/ أكد سعادة الدكتور عيسى بن سعد الجفالي النعيمي وزير التنمية الإدارية والعمل والشؤون الاجتماعية، أن دولة قطر تحت قيادة حضرة صاحب السمو الشيخ تميم بن حمد آل ثاني أمير البلاد المفدى (حفظه الله)، تحرص على تطوير تشريعاتها الوطنية وأنظمتها وبرامجها المعمول بها في مجال حماية العمالة الوافدة باعتبارها جزء من النسيج الاجتماعي في المجتمع القطري لها حقوق وعليها واجبات شأنها في ذلك شأن جميع المقيمين على أرض الدولة.

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An ILO delegation visited Qatar earlier this month and left with mixed impressions about the living and working conditions of low-income expats in the country, as well as the impact of government efforts to address problems, according to an ILO report.

In a meeting earlier this week, the ILO’s governing body adopted the delegation’s recommendation to wait a year to decide on whether to sanction Qatar.

This would be to assess the impact of new changes to the kafala sponsorship system that take effect in December, which would theoretically make it easier for expats to leave the country and change jobs.

Equal rights?

Speaking at the same session, Al-Nuaimi said all residents of Qatar are equal under the law and that expats are protected against discrimination under the country’s constitution and legislation.

However, expats and Qataris are subject to different rules in some areas of the law.

For example, unlike most nationals, expats living in Qatar require permission to leave the country and change jobs. They also require their sponsor’s permission to open a bank account, take out a loan and obtain a driver’s license.

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Penny Yi Wang / Flickr

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While Qatar’s legal system often rules in favor of expats who’ve filed labor complaints, the issues can take months to resolve, discouraging some low-income workers from pursuing their case, an American researcher wrote in a December 2014 report.

If an expat’s dispute is with their employer, a lawsuit or criminal complaint often means a sponsor will stop paying the complainant, kick them out of company-provided accommodations and fail to renew their residence permit.

Additionally, most blue-collar workers typically live outside central Doha and lack access to private transportation, making it difficult to attend some hearings.

Progress made

The ILO delegation heard from the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs that the government has taken steps to make the justice system more accessible.

These include setting up a multilingual office within the courts to help expats with their cases.

Complaint kiosk.

ADLSA

Complaint kiosk.

Additionally, the ministry pointed to the service centers and electronic kiosks located outside central Doha that now accept grievances in 11 languages.

However, the ILO delegation said it spoke to several workers during their visit to Qatar who said they were not aware of the electronic kiosks. Meanwhile, those who had heard of the equipment said they lacked the resources to travel to them to file a complaint.

The ILO said it also met expats who faced retaliation after reporting issues, including one woman who was sent to the deportation center after her employer filed a criminal complaint against her.

Others said their court hearings were continuously delayed because their employer refused to attend the proceedings:

“These workers are awaiting for a decision for several months for their salaries to be paid to them and for their passports to be returned so that they could return home, relying on their community solidarity as they are left with no income. The fact that some workers had no ID cards also meant that they had no access to free health care,” the report said.

The ILO delegation said it was told that 8,379 complaints landed in labor courts last year, up from 6,878 in 2014. Of those, 3,778 were withdrawn following mediation in 2015, an increase from the 2,595 the previous year.

However, the number of judgments issued by the labor court decreased from 2,116 in 2014 to 2,012 last year. The ILO report did not say how those cases were resolved.

Thoughts?

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With reporting from Heba Fahmy

Several nurseries in Qatar have canceled children’s festive concerts at the last minute this week following a directive from Qatar authorities reminding them not to hold “non-Islamic rituals.”

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA), which licenses and regulates nursery schools in Qatar, sent a circular in Arabic on Tuesday, Dec. 8 to the owners of day care establishments with the title “Celebration of non-Islamic rituals.”

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Damon McDonald

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The two-page memo, which came from the ministry’s Family Development Department, highlighted what authorities said were some of the obligations nurseries have toward their children.

It referenced Article 1 of the Constitution, which defines Qatar as being an Arab state that practices the religion Islam and is primarily governed by Shari’a law.

It also cited Article 22, which according to the legal portal Al Meezan states:

“The State shall provide care for the young and protect them from corruption, exploitation, and the evils of physical, mental and spiritual neglect. The State shall also create circumstances conducive to the development of their abilities in all fields based on a sound education.”

Finally, the memo highlighted Article 2 of the 2014 law regulating the activities of nursery schools, which states that daycares should provide “the appropriate conditions for the development of their skills and talents in various fields using a scientific education system” for their enrolled pre-school children.

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Daffodils Nursery/Flickr

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According to that law, one of the responsibilities of nurseries is also to “instill moral and religious values in the minds of children.”

The ministry’s memo concluded:

“Therefore it is prohibited on all nurseries to celebrate with non-Islamic rituals as it violates the constitution of Qatar and violates the rules of the …law no. 1 of the year 2014.”

The memo was sent to daycares to clarify the law, and no nurseries were punished, a MOLSA representative said in a statement to Doha News.

No concerts

In response to the memo, several nurseries in Qatar have taken the precaution of cancelling Christmas-related activities, including children’s concerts that were scheduled to take place this week.

Busy Bees nursery

Busy Bees

Busy Bees nursery

Starfish Lane Kids’ nurseries were due to hold end-of-year concerts yesterday and today, which the children and staff had been preparing to present to parents.

However, after receiving the ministry’s memo, the decision was taken to cancel the concerts, managing partner Kimberley Sheedy told Doha News.

Busy Bees British Nursery has also revised some of its plans for the week in light of the new directive.

Although manager Nadene Shameem said the nursery had not scheduled a concert this year, she still questioned the decision taken by the ministry. In a statement to Doha News, she said:

“It was very disappointing to receive the new ruling from the (ministry) with regards to celebrating ‘non-Islamic rituals.’ As a nursery, it is our responsibility to educate a child in all areas of development and that includes teaching them inclusiveness and diversity, and fostering acceptance and understanding.

But learning about other cultures and their celebrations, a child’s development, knowledge and understanding of the outside world can only expand their minds.”

Fun First nursery in West Bay has also cancelled festive events that were set to take place today.

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Fun First Nursery

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In a statement posted yesterday on its website and Facebook page, the nursery told parents, “we want to inform you that we have to cancel our Christmas/Winter Party that was due to take place this coming Thursday.”

The nursery had reportedly previously planned to host what it billed as a “Christmas party,” which was set to include a visit from Santa Claus and presents for children.

However its celebrations drew the attention of Qatari media commentator Faisal Marzouki, who criticized the event on Twitter.

Posting a notice from the nursery that said parents who did not want their children to take part in the celebrations should keep the children at home on that day, Marzouki tagged MOLSA and asked in Arabic: “What is the opinion of the Ministry of Labor? A kindergarten celebrates bringing Santa to the children, and offering children who do not, not to attend.”

The ministry responded to Marzouki several times on Twitter, saying the situation was being investigated, then that the event had been cancelled, as it was considered to violate the Qatari constitution and the nursery law.

Marzouki’s tweet attracted significant interest, with dozens of people tweeting him their thanks.

Christmas celebrations

Although Qatar is a Muslim country, it is home to hundreds of thousands of Christians, and has a designated religious complex outside central Doha where a number of church buildings are located.

Qatar's Catholic church

Navin Sam / Doha News

Qatar’s Catholic church

Ahead of Christmas, many stores and hotels around the country have been getting into the festive spirit with displays and events. 

However, there has been tension over the public celebration of the holiday in the past.

Tree lighting ceremony at Four Seasons hotel

Baba Tamim

Tree lighting ceremony at Four Seasons hotel

Last year for example, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) sent a directive to all hotels stating that celebrations should focus on Qatar National Day (Dec. 18), rather than Christmas.

While some establishments did hold festive tree lighting ceremonies in early December last year, the trees were then taken down or covered over until after that holiday.

This year, while many hotels still have trees and other festive decorations prominently displayed in their lobbies, QTA issued a public statement aimed at ensuring National Day is suitably represented:

“As part of celebrations QTA will collaborate with hotels to ensure the spirit of Qatar National Day is shared with the country’s visitors and tourists. Hotel establishments are encouraged to decorate their rooms and reception areas in maroon and white, and to ask their staff to dress in national dress,” the statement said.

Thoughts?

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Penny Yi Wang / Doha News

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Qatar has pushed back plans to hire 100 more labor inspectors by the end of this year, a government minister has indicated.

The move comes despite a pledge to keep a closer watch on how employers are treating the country’s blue-collar workforce.

For several years, rights organizations – including Qatar’s own National Human Rights Committee – have argued that the government is failing to employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors relative to the country’s swelling construction sector.

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Chantelle D'mello

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These inspectors are responsible for ensuring employers follow Qatar’s labor law and that worker housing complies with local regulations. Additionally, specially trained inspectors visit construction sites to monitor adherence to safety standards.

Critics have long said that the labor inspection system is one of Qatar’s major weaknesses in protecting migrant workers from abuse.

The country has many good laws on its books, but fails to properly enforce them, they add.

By the numbers

On Tuesday, Abdullah bin Saleh Al Khulaifi – Qatar’s minister of labor and social affairs – told the International Labour Organization (ILO) that Qatar currently employs 300 inspectors, QNA reported.

Though that’s double the 150 inspectors employed slightly more than two years ago, it’s the same figure that the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOLSA) cited in May.

Previously, MOLSA said there would be 400 inspectors by the end of this year, but Al Khulaifi told the ILO this week that this target won’t be achieved before the end of 2016.

“The government of Qatar is working hard with employers and workers to … provide the best to the guest workers who contribute to the construction of the State of Qatar,” Qatar News Agency (QNA) quoted the minister as saying.

However, with government officials predicting the most labor-intensive stage of Qatar’s construction boom to peak by mid-2017, the delay in increasing the number of inspectors may come too late.

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PRODave Crosby/Flickr

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Human rights experts have previously said that employing more labor inspectors is an effective way of identifying labor law violations and improving workplace safety, though 300 for a population of several hundred thousand blue-collar workers is “obviously inadequate,” according to Amnesty.

Each year, MOLSA “blacklists” hundreds of companies, preventing them from sponsoring additional foreign workers, for breaking the rules. That includes 807 firms in the first half of 2015, a figure that put the ministry on pace to sanction a much lower number of businesses than in previous years.

In 2013, Amnesty said inspectors were being instructed to complete multiple inspections a day, preventing them from properly probing incidents of abuse.

ILO visit

At the same ILO meeting, members voted to send a mission to Qatar to investigate allegations of “forced labor” brought forward by delegates last year, according to Belgian newspaper De Standaard.

A motion tabled at this week’s meeting summarized the complaint:

“From the moment migrant workers begin the process of seeking work in Qatar, they are drawn into a highly exploitative system that facilitates the exaction of forced labour by their employers. This includes practices such as contract substitution, recruitment fees (for which many take out large, high-interest loans) and passport confiscation.

The Government of 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. Of particular concern, the sponsorship law, among the most restrictive in the Gulf region, facilitates the exaction of forced labour by, among other things, making it very difficult for a migrant worker to leave an abusive employer.”

Al Khulaifi told the ILO that all the issues contained in the complaint has been dealt with “seriously,” according to QNA.

Emiri Diwan

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Emiri Diwan

He also referenced the recently passed changes to Qatar’s sponsorship law, telling delegates that it gives workers the right to change jobs at the end of their contract and eliminates the exit visa system so that expats can leave the country without the prior permission of their employer.

However, the actual text of the new law states that expats will have to ask the Ministry of Interior for authorization to exit Qatar. The ministry, in turn, will wait for the sponsor’s approval or objection before permitting the applicant to leave.

Ultimately, ILO delegates voted to assess the situation in Qatar themselves and plan to visit the Gulf state before the organization’s next governing body meeting in March 2016.

The ILO could decide at that session to establish a commission of inquiry, its highest investigative mechanism, to take a closer look at the complaint against Qatar.

Thoughts?