Brussels (Brussels Morning) Global rights watchdog Amnesty International accused the Qatari government on Tuesday of failing to improve labour conditions for thousands of migrant workers in the country, asserting that enacted labour reforms had not been translated into changes on the ground. The Qatari Ministry of Labour quickly responded, rejecting the accusations.
In a report titled “Reality Check 2021: A year to the 2022 World Cup – The state of Migrant Workers’ Rights in Qatar”, Amnesty asserted that the past year has seen the actual erosion of migrant workers’ rights, despite Doha’s implementation of labour reforms. The rights watchdog claims old abusive practices have been resurfacing, reviving the worst elements of the kafala sponsorship system.
Amnesty claims that the government has failed to rigorously implement the changes, and questions the pledge by key stakeholders that the World Cup would be a game changer for migrant workers in Qatar.
According to the report, many abusive employers in Qatar found ways to evade the system, taking advantage of the lack of enforcement of the rules instituted by the labour reform. Wage theft remains rampant, workers still need an employer’s permission to change jobs in practice, legal process to claim unpaid dues remains laborious or even fruitless for many workers, while a culture of impunity for abusive employers reportedly still thrives.
The report also notes that deaths of migrant workers remain poorly investigated, and that foreign workers remain deprived of their right to form and join trade unions, denying them access to bargaining power.
The Qatari Labour Ministry statement, on the other hand, focuses on official statistics to refute the claims listed in the Amnesty report. According to the Qatari government, the country has strengthened its enforcement measures to safeguard workers and prosecute employers who breach the laws.
The Ministry claims that more than 35,000 inspections were carried out in the first half of 2021, and that more than 13,700 penalties were issued to violating companies, including closures of work sites, fines and prison sentences.
“Qatar has never shied away from acknowledging that its labour system is still a work in progress,” the Ministry statement declared. “The government is committed to engaging collaboratively and constructively with international partners and critics to further improve standards for all migrant workers in Qatar.”
The government release stresses that “no other country has come so far in such a short amount of time”, pledging to continue cooperating with international experts, including the International Labour Organisation and trade unions, as well as international NGOs.