ILO to give Qatar a year to ease forced labour before investigation

Geneva, March 22

Qatar is making progress toward ending forced labour and improving conditions for migrant workers, but the test will be whether it enforces new legislation from December, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said on Monday.

The small, wealthy Gulf Arab state is building facilities to hold the 2022 soccer World Cup and has imported hundreds of thousands of construction workers for that purpose, drawing more attention to conditions of its migrant labour community.

A high-level ILO team who visited the tiny Gulf state this month after persistent complaints from migrant workers said any decision to appoint an ILO commission of inquiry should be put off for a year to allow time to implement the reforms.

The report and recommendations will be debated at the ILO’s Governing Body today, Spokesman Hans von Rohland said.

A commission of inquiry is a rare sanction which the United Nations agency has imposed only about a dozen times since World War II, against countries including Myanmar and Belarus.

In a report, ILO mission said it ‘acknowledges the recent concrete measures taken by the government and other interlocutors’ it met in Qatar to improve migrants’ working conditions.

Yet ‘certain challenges remain and the implementation of the measures to overcome them are still under way’, said the report by the team led by Japanese Ambassador Misako Kaji and including representatives of governments, employers and workers groups.

From December, a new Qatari law abolishes the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system for migrant workers in favour of a labour contract system, removing all curbs on worker movements.

A worker will no longer be forced to continue a job if there is abuse or exploitation, although domestic workers are excluded from this provision, report said.

Workers’ groups first complained in 2014 about forced labour affecting a migrant worker population of some 1.5 million — roughly 90 per cent of Qatar’s population.

The ILO mission, the second in two years, met the prime minister, ministers of labour and justice, the CEO of Qatar Petroleum and workers’ groups, mostly from the Philippines and Nepal. It visited sites including Khalifa stadium, a major construction site ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

“Concerns raised by migrant workers related to payment of wages (non-payment, late payment and/or reduction of agreed wages), passport confiscation, long hours of work ... non-renewal of their identity cards by the employer and difficulty in transferring sponsorship.”