Qatar ‘tweaks’ kafala sys­tem for ex­pats

Kuwait Times - - NEWS -

Al­though the state­ment sug­gested the poli­cies took ef­fect yes­ter­day, the gov­ern­ment sub­se­quently con­firmed they would only be­come law today - a year af­ter the emir signed off on the change. Un­der the new law, work­ers will gen­er­ally be free to leave Qatar so long as they in­form their em­ployer first. Em­ploy­ees whose bosses refuse can ap­peal to a gov­ern­ment com­mit­tee that must ad­dress re­quests within three days.

Work­ers who have unset­tled debts - po­ten­tially any­one who has taken out a lo­cal credit card, mort­gage, or car or per­sonal loan - or those wanted as part of a crim­i­nal case can be forced to stay. The law al­lows work­ers to change jobs, but only af­ter they com­plete an ex­ist­ing fixed-term con­tract or have worked five years on an ope­nended one. The new re­forms im­pose fines of up to 25,000 riyal ($6,865) on busi­nesses who con­fis­cate em­ploy­ees’ pass­ports. “The new law is the lat­est step to­wards im­prov­ing and pro­tect­ing the rights of ev­ery ex­pa­tri­ate worker in Qatar,” Nuaimi said. “It re­places the kafala sys­tem with a mod­ern­ized, con­tract-based sys­tem that safe­guards work­ers’ rights and in­creases job flex­i­bil­ity.”

Rights ac­tivists that have ex­am­ined the re­forms say they con­tinue to leave work­ers ripe for ex­ploita­tion by un­scrupu­lous em­ploy­ers. “This new law may get rid of the word ‘spon­sor­ship’ but it leaves the same ba­sic sys­tem in­tact,” said James Lynch, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s deputy di­rec­tor for global is­sues. He urged foot­ball’s world gov­ern­ing body FIFA, its spon­sors and those seek­ing to do busi­ness with it or Qatar to “not use this re­form to claim that the prob­lem of mi­grant la­bor abuse has been solved”.

Hu­man Rights Watch echoed that sen­ti­ment. “The mes­sage this law sends is that Qatar doesn’t re­ally care much about mi­grant work­ers,” said Joe Stork, the group’s deputy Mid­dle East di­rec­tor. “Its spon­sor­ship sys­tem re­mains a se­ri­ous stain on Qatar’s in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion.” World Cup or­ga­niz­ers say some 36,000 peo­ple will work on its projects next year. Many more work­ers toil away on other job sites such as roads, ho­tels and pub­lic trans­porta­tion links that will cater to fans at­tend­ing the games.

Yes­ter­day’s an­nounce­ment sits along­side pre­vi­ous re­forms which shows Doha is re­spond­ing to its crit­ics, of­fi­cials say. But what of the views of those on the front line, the la­bor­ers help­ing to build the in­fra­struc­ture which the world will see in six years’ time? “I’ve heard about a change in the law, but what the change will be I don’t know,” said Gir­i­jesh, an In­dian elec­tri­cian, dur­ing his hour-long lunch break in down­town Doha.

Gir­i­jesh is just one of hun­dreds of blue and yel­lowover­alled work­ers rest­ing af­ter a morn­ing’s work in Msh­ereib, where an es­ti­mated $5.5 bil­lion project to con­vert a run­down part of Doha into a gleam­ing fi­nan­cial and tourist cen­ter is un­der way. Here, where stray cats now scav­enge skips for food, traders sell to­bacco for five Qatari riyals and work­ers sit on the steps of a run­down mall hous­ing com­puter and cloth­ing shops, will be built Doha’s very own “Wall Street” fi­nan­cial district.

As Gir­i­jesh speaks, a crowd gath­ers, ea­ger to voice their own con­cerns about work­ing con­di­tions. Most con­cern pay - ei­ther not re­ceiv­ing their monthly salary or only find­ing out once they were in Qatar that the money they were promised be­fore leav­ing is a frac­tion of what they ac­tu­ally earn. “My work is re­ally hard and re­ally dan­ger­ous as well, but I only earn 600 Qatari riyals a month,” says Naza­mudin, a Nepalese mar­ble fit­ter. That works out at around $165. He was promised dou­ble that amount be­fore leav­ing home and pay­ing more than $1,100 to get a visa into Qatar. “I don’t want to be here,” he says sadly.

Sim­i­larly Ibrahim, an elec­tri­cian from Bangladesh, says he re­ceives a salary of 810 riyals, de­spite be­ing promised 1,200 a month. To com­pound matters he has not been paid for months. What th­ese work­ers say they want - whether un­der a spon­sor­ship or con­tract sys­tem - is wage se­cu­rity. “All la­bor­ers have a prob­lem in Qatar,” says Ibrahim, who has to pay off 30,000 Qatari riyals to an agent who helped him se­cure work in the Gulf. “If the Qataris are im­ple­ment­ing this new law, hope­fully it will be bet­ter for us,” he tells AFP through an in­ter­preter. “The main thing is the con­tract. My con­tract is my se­cu­rity and I need to be se­cure.”

Scaf­folder Sad­dul­haq from Bangladesh says la­bor­ers are ex­ploited by un­scrupu­lous agents, and not only over pay. He says many can­not read, so they have no idea what they are sign­ing up to, or even for the amount of time they will be in Qatar. “We do not know how long we are go­ing to work for,” Sad­dul­haq says. At its worst, the uncer­tainty over pay can lead to work­ers pay­ing the ul­ti­mate price, says Amir, a Nepalese car­pen­ter. “Many peo­ple choose sui­cide,” said the fa­ther-of­four. “Some months we don’t get paid. Your fam­ily is starv­ing, your kids are starv­ing, there’s no food at home... that’s why peo­ple choose sui­cide.” Asked how of­ten col­leagues take their own lives, Amir says there are cases ev­ery month. — Agen­cies

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