Six labour organizations from India and Nepal, of which three national trade union centers (GEFONT, NTUC, CFTUI), their affiliated construction federations (CUPPEC, CAWUN) and one domestic workers’ movement (NDWM), are gathering in Kathmandu on 28 and 29 February to discuss how they can jointly support migrant workers who are working in Qatar. Through a program that is hosted by the Belgian NGO WSM and the Belgian federation of construction workers ACV-CSC BIE, we are putting together our efforts in a joint action plan for the next five years (2017 – 2021) to strengthen the initiatives we are already taking in support of Indian and Nepali migrant workers. During the meeting, we discussed the different options for concrete action on which we can work together, going from campaigning and pre-departure training to giving legal assistance and organizing the migrant workers in Qatar as well as in the sending countries.
Since 2014 already we have been collaborating in a pilot project to map out how migrant workers in Qatar are organizing themselves through local support groups and how they are communicating between themselves and with the trade unions in the sending countries. One of the project’s goals was also to get a view on the actors that are involved in the migration process from Nepal/India to Qatar (recruitment agencies/agents, multinational companies, contractors and subcontractors, embassies, local and national governments…). Just now, our collaboration has also resulted in a collection of testimonies, which we present to the world today.
Around 1.200 migrant workers have died in Qatar since it was awarded the World Cup in December 2010 and it is projected 7.000 more will die by the time the championship takes place in 2022.
A research on the causes of deaths found that of 186 Nepalese workers who died, 107 died suddenly of an unknown cause, 23 died in traffic accidents, 21 from “intentionally self-harm”, 11 were killed by falling objects and the rest of 24 died of “other causes”. Often the migrant workers have to work on construction sites in temperatures soaring over 40° C, in dangerous conditions with no safety facilities. After work, many return to squalid accommodation where they are being squeezed in overcrowded and inhumane barrack-style compounds.
Under sustained international pressure, Qatar has finally reformed the Bill nr. 4/ 2009 on “the Regulation of the Expatriates’ Entry, Departure, Residence and Sponsorship” and replaced it with the Bill nr. 21/ 2015 on the regulation of “the entry and exit of expatriates and their residency” (*will be applicable on 14 December 2016). The new amended law will delete the term of ‘Kafala’, replace it by a job-contract system and authorize the transfer of migrant workers to other employers (after the end of their contract for a specific duration or after 5 years for a contract of unlimited duration). The government will also take measures to strengthen the labour inspection services and set up a new complaint mechanism. Migrant workers should be able to submit their complaints in seven languages. The Ministry promised to provide for legal aid in the judiciary and for interpreters free of charge, so that complaints can be settled directly between the employers and the workers. The new law also requires companies to pay their employees through direct bank transfer, allowing scrutiny on late or non-existing payments of wage. The newly reformed law will affect 1,8 million migrant workers of which around 400.000 are Nepali migrant workers and 500.000 Indian migrant workers.
Although the new law can be considered as a positive step, we consider the measures that have been taken by the Qatari Government to address the forced labour situation are too little and too slow, and it still remains to be seen whether the new law will really be implemented.
Therefore, we urge the Government of Qatar to:
• Abolish the essence of the Kafala (sponsorship) system by further amending the new Bill 21/ 2015 on the regulation of “the entry and exit of expatriates and their residency”, in order to enforce the legal provisions on passport confiscation and reform the exit permit system;
• Guarantee freedom of association and right to organize for migrant workers to form their own unions and exercising the rights to collective bargaining;
• Extend the coverage of the labour law to include (female) domestic workers and protection from physical and verbal assault, sexual harassment and slavery.
• Facilitate access to the justice system and efficient complaint mechanisms for migrant workers. This includes, but is not limited to, effective labour inspection, assistance with language and translation, free of charge and without fear of reprisals;
We are also calling for the (Multinational) Companies involved in infrastructure projects for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to respect the International Labour Standards stipulated in the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD guidelines on multinationals.
Despite the reform of law in Qatar, we also urge the Government of Nepal and India to:
• Reform the migrant labour law (e.q Foreign Employment Act 2007) and employment policy in order to protect and empower migrant workers. This includes zero-cost migration, mandatory pre-departure training, sufficient vocational training, recruitment and placement procedure, verification system of fake documents, simplify bureaucracy and preventing corrupt practices;
• The right to vote for 2 million Nepalese migrant workers, whose remittances contribute 28,2% of Nepalese GDP
• Renew the Government to Government binding agreements which should guarantee safe migration, increased minimum wages, equal benefits and social protection for migrant workers.
• Have interventions with their embassy in Qatar to prevent human and migrant rights violations against Nepali and Indian migrant workers and to fully engage in times of crisis.
• Ensure that contracts signed in the sending countries are not altered in Qatar, prosecute those suspected of exploitation – including the crime of forced labour and forced migration – and blacklist employers & labour suppliers who have committed workers’ rights violations.
Recently, workers around the word have sent a strong signal to the Government of Qatar to stop forced labour and exploitation of migrant workers, by having decision in the ILO to send a High-level Tripartite mission to Qatar in March 2016, a decision which we highly support. The ILO is going to consider the case of Qatar on Forced Labour for violations against ILO Convention nr 29, based on the conclusions of the mission delegates.
Today, through this meeting on our action plan 2017-2021, we confirm our commitment to collaborate on these issues in the coming years in order to improve the living and working conditions of the migrant workers in Qatar and to protect them from the exploitation and abuses many of them are still undergoing. We are standing together with a clear message, to the governments of Qatar, Nepal and India, but also to all governments in Asia and the Middle East who are sending or receiving migrant workers as well as to the FIFA and its newly elected president Gianni Infantino: Fundamental workers’ rights, including the right of the migrant workers to decent work, should be guaranteed, respected and protected. Violations of these fundamental rights and forced labour are just unacceptable. Qatar cannot be an exception to that.
GEFONT – Nepal CUPPEC – Nepal
NTUC – Nepal CAWUN – Nepal
CFTUI – India NDWM – India
WSM – Belgium ACV – CSC BIE – Belgium
Kathmandu, 29 February 2016