AFP | Published — Tuesday 26 September 2017
In recent years Doha claims to have made great strides in labour relations, including reforms to insure wages are paid promptly, improved accomadations and the abolition of kafala for a new, contract-based system. (AFP)
DOHA: A Nepalese construction worker in Qatar was “sacked” the day after speaking to a UN delegation visiting the 2022 World Cup host country to examine labor conditions, sources told AFP.
The incident is considered serious enough that the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) said it would be on the agenda when its governing body meets in two months to discuss an investigation into allegations of forced labor by Qatar.
“The ILO has been following closely this case and continues to do so with a view to ensuring that the rights of this Nepalese worker are fully respected and protected,” Corinne Vargha, director of the ILO’s international labor standards department, told AFP in a statement.
The case was raised in a previous meeting of the ILO governing body in March 2017, Vargha said, in the context of a complaint against Doha for non-compliance with two ratified ILO international conventions — namely the Forced Labour Convention and the Labour Inspection Convention.
“The complaint will be further discussed by the Governing Body at its November 2017 session,” she added.
That meeting could see the ILO launch a formal investigation into Qatar over its treatment of migrant workers.
The construction worker’s plight has also been confirmed by two separate unions.
The incident occurred in March 2016, but could only now be reported because of sensitivities surrounding the case.
It happened when a six-strong team from the ILO visited a Qatar labor camp.
As well as losing his job after telling the UN body about unpaid wages and employers illegally holding his passport, the laborer was also handed a one-way ticket home to Nepal by bosses, unions said.
Officials at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) say the timing of the dismissal “indicates it was a retaliatory act by his employer.”
“This is a violation under international labor standards and contradicts the commitments Qatar has repeatedly made before the ILO,” said ITUC head Sharan Burrow.
The union said the 29-year-old worker never left Qatar, but was subsequently jailed for two weeks due to losing his work sponsor and faced a fine of 4,600 Qatari riyals ($1,240).
Under the “kafala” system, the prevailing law at the time of the incident, all foreign workers in Qatar required a local sponsor in order to work and maintain residency.
That sponsor, whether an individual or company, must grant permission for the laborer to switch jobs or leave the country.
The Nepalese national was not working on a World Cup project.
The man’s case was cleared earlier this year and he opted to stay in Qatar, working for a new employer and earning around 1,600 Qatari riyals ($430) per month.
In response, Qatar’s labor ministry told AFP it was aware of the case and all issues had been resolved.
It insisted the case began when the worker left his job in violation of Qatar’s residency and employment laws.
“The worker has been granted legal status in Qatar and all financial disputes have been settled with his previous employer.
“The Government can confirm that it has been in contact with the ILO about the resolution of this case,” a ministry statement said.
In recent years Doha says it has made great strides in labor relations, including reforms to ensure wages are paid promptly, improved accommodation and the abolition of kafala for a contract-based system.
Migrant workers’ expert Nicholas McGeehan said the case demonstrated there remained real problems in Qatar’s treatment of laborers.
“The reality is that Qatar’s reforms have been cosmetic and aimed not at improving the situation but rather at presenting a sense of progress.”