Browsing 'workers' News

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

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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?

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The passage of Qatar’s new landmark domestic workers law this week has been hailed by many rights groups as a step forward.

For the first time, nannies, cooks, gardeners, drivers and other house help in Qatar have contractual rights, such as set working hours, end-of-service benefits and rest breaks.

But the legislation still affords these workers less rights than other employees in Qatar who are covered by the labor law, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

Here are five examples of how:

1. Longer working days

The domestic workers law allows for a maximum 10-hour working day and unspecified rest breaks.

Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy

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The labor law however allows a maximum eight-hour workday (and 48-hour workweek), with rest required every five hours.

No paid overtime

According to the domestic workers law, household help can work overtime “if the employee agrees”, but no OT pay is required.

The labor law meanwhile stipulates that employers working late be paid at least 25 to 50 percent extra on top of their basic wage.

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According to Amnesty International, “it is not at all clear how domestic workers will be protected against pressure from employers to work longer hours.”

The group urged authorities to clarify the matter or consider amending/removing the provision.

Unclear sick leave

While the new law makes it illegal to force domestic workers to report to work when sick, it unclear whether such leave should be paid.

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Under the labor law however, employees are entitled to two weeks of sick leave at full pay, four weeks at half pay and unpaid leave after that.

Such loopholes mean household helpers are still “second-class workers with weaker protections,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

No grievance mechanism

Qatar’s domestic workers will not be able to utilize the country’s new labor dispute committee because they are not under the labor law.

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Whether they have recourse in the courts remains unclear.

This leaves them without a grievance mechanism to enforce their rights, and “has major implications for whether the new law will succeed in reducing the abuse of domestic workers,” Amnesty International said.

No inspections

While employers can be fined for flouting the domestic workers law, the legislation does not mention how the rules would be enforced.

Included in the labor law meanwhile is a clause that establishes a workplace inspection unit.

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The legislation outlines what kinds of authority inspectors have when visiting companies, and what penalties they can deliver.

“Qatar and its neighbors are moving in the right direction on domestic workers’ rights,” Begum said. “But for these highly vulnerable workers, the Gulf countries need to bolster protections and strongly enforce laws.”

Thoughts?

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New legislation that will boost legal protections for nannies, gardeners, drivers and other domestic help in Qatar has been signed into law by the Emir.

Once Law No. 15 of 2017 takes effect, those who hire household workers will be required to have a written contract with their employees.

Because domestic workers were not previously covered by the Labor Law, contracts were not mandated.

BunchandBrock Law

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This meant they could not file complaints against their employers with the labor ministry.

Health care, vacation and sick leave

The new law is groundbreaking in that it also guarantees 10-hour workdays with meal, worship and rest breaks. It also mandates a day off a week for domestic help.

This was a point of contention when the GCC tried to agree to a unified contract in 2015.

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According to a copy of the law published in Al Sharq, house help is also entitled to:

  • Three weeks of paid vacation a year, as well as a paid roundtrip ticket home every two years;
  • Free healthcare and adequate accommodation and clothing;
  • On-time salary payments at the end of each month, either through direct deposit or cash;
  • End-of-service benefits equivalent to three weeks’ wages of work per year; and
  • Fair treatment that involves maintaining their dignity and protecting them against physical and psychological harm.

Additionally, the domestic worker should not be docked for any recruitment costs and cannot be taken out of the country for work without their permission.

The new law also sets age limits for domestic workers, who must be between 18 and 60 years old. However, the labor minister can grant an exception for older workers.

Each party must have a copy of the contract, and it also must be filed with the government.

Violating the law could result in fines of QR5,000 to QR10,000.

In return

In return, domestic workers must respect “the laws, customs, social traditions and religious and moral values” of Qatar.

They should perform their duties as well as preserve the secrets of their employers and not harm their interests, the law states.

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Additionally, they cannot work for others (either paid or not) without violating the terms of their contract.

Failing to fulfill these requirements could result in the immediate termination of their contract without end-of-service benefits.

Step forward

Qatar has been discussing a draft law for several years without results.

But the passage of this legislation comes amid scrutiny from the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The UN body has deliberated sanctioning Qatar for violating human rights, but recently gave authorities until November to prove they are serious about reform.

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In the past, rights groups have said lack of legal protection leaves Qatar’s 84,000 female house helpers particularly vulnerable.

Some have been subjected to excessive working hours, late and unpaid wages, restrictions on movement and sexual assaults, groups have pointed out.

Many cautiously hailed the new legislation as a step forward when it was first proposed earlier this year.

But as with all of Qatar’s laws, enforcement will be paramount, they said.

Additionally, Migrant-Rights.org previously pointed out that when it comes to a worker’s day off, the law doesn’t say whether they are allowed to leave the house.

“Workers should be guaranteed the right to both freedom of mobility and autonomous use of leisure time on days off. It is also of utmost importance to permit a worker access to her own phone to reduce her isolation,” the group added.

Thoughts?