Qatar Continues Labor Reforms After World Cup Success, But Migrant Workers Still Face Challenges

Qatar has hosted two major international soccer tournaments in the past year, the World Cup and the Asian Cup, showcasing its impressive stadiums and infrastructure. However, behind the scenes, the Gulf state has also been working on improving the conditions and rights of migrant workers, who make up the majority of its population and labor force. Qatar has introduced several labor reforms, such as abolishing the kafala system, raising the minimum wage, and allowing workers to change jobs and leave the country without employer consent. However, human rights groups say that more needs to be done to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of these reforms, and to address the ongoing abuses and exploitation of migrant workers.


The Kafala System: A Source of Controversy and Criticism

The kafala system is a sponsorship system that regulates the relationship between migrant workers and their employers in many Arab countries, including Qatar. Under this system, workers need the permission of their employers to enter, exit, or change jobs in the country, and they are often tied to their employers for the duration of their contracts. The system has been widely criticized by human rights groups, who say that it creates a situation of dependency and vulnerability, and exposes workers to various forms of abuse, such as unpaid wages, excessive working hours, poor living conditions, confiscation of passports, physical and sexual violence, and human trafficking.

Qatar has faced intense scrutiny and pressure over its use of the kafala system, especially after it was awarded the World Cup in 2010. The country has relied heavily on migrant workers, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, to build the stadiums and infrastructure for the tournament, as well as for its ambitious development plans. However, many workers have reported facing harsh and inhumane working conditions, and some have even died due to accidents, heat stress, or suicide. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, more than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since 2010, although the Qatari government disputes this figure and says that most of the deaths were due to natural causes.

The Labor Reforms: A Step in the Right Direction

In response to the criticism and pressure, Qatar has introduced several labor reforms in recent years, aimed at improving the situation and rights of migrant workers. Some of the key reforms are:

  • Abolishing the kafala system: In 2020, Qatar abolished the kafala system, and replaced it with a new system that allows workers to change jobs and leave the country without the permission of their employers, after giving a notice period. The new system also requires employers to provide workers with written contracts, and to pay them electronically and on time.
  • Raising the minimum wage: In 2021, Qatar raised the minimum wage for all workers, including domestic workers, to 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275) per month, plus 500 riyals ($137) for accommodation and 300 riyals ($82) for food, if not provided by the employer. The new minimum wage is the highest in the region, and applies to both nationals and foreigners.
  • Allowing workers to form committees: In 2021, Qatar allowed workers to form joint committees with their employers, to discuss and resolve issues related to their work and welfare. The committees are composed of representatives from both sides, and are supervised by the Ministry of Labor. The committees are expected to enhance the communication and cooperation between workers and employers, and to prevent and settle disputes.

The labor reforms have been welcomed by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a U.N. agency that monitors and promotes labor standards and rights. The ILO has been working with Qatar since 2017, to support the implementation and enforcement of the reforms, and to improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers. The ILO has praised Qatar for its progress and commitment, and has called it a “regional leader” in labor reform.

The Remaining Challenges: A Need for More Action and Accountability

However, human rights groups say that the labor reforms are not enough, and that more needs to be done to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of the reforms, and to address the ongoing abuses and exploitation of migrant workers. Some of the remaining challenges are:

  • Lack of awareness and access: Many migrant workers are not aware of their rights and the reforms, or do not have access to the mechanisms and services that are supposed to protect them. For example, some workers do not have written contracts, or do not know how to file a complaint or change jobs. Some workers also face language barriers, or fear retaliation from their employers, if they try to exercise their rights.
  • Lack of monitoring and compliance: Many employers do not comply with the labor laws and the reforms, or do not face any consequences for violating them. For example, some employers still withhold the passports of their workers, or do not pay them the minimum wage or on time. Some employers also abuse or harass their workers, or do not provide them with adequate health and safety measures. The authorities do not have enough resources or capacity to monitor and inspect the workplaces, or to investigate and prosecute the offenders.
  • Lack of justice and compensation: Many migrant workers do not receive justice or compensation for the abuses and exploitation they have suffered, or for the injuries or deaths they have sustained. For example, some workers do not receive their unpaid wages, or do not get any compensation for their medical bills or funeral costs. Some workers also face legal obstacles, such as lengthy and costly procedures, or lack of legal representation or assistance.

Human rights groups have urged Qatar and FIFA, the world soccer governing body, to do more for migrant workers, particularly in terms of compensation, justice, and accountability. They have also called on the international community and the public to keep pressuring Qatar to uphold its human rights obligations, and to ensure that the legacy of the World Cup is not built on the exploitation and suffering of migrant workers.

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