Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Qatar exploits migrant workers: Amnesty International

 A new report by Amnesty International (AI) has revealed how migrant domestic workers employed in Qatar have been pushed to breaking point by extreme overwork, lack of rest, and abusive and degrading treatment, weeks after the gas-rich country gathered all the praise for introducing landmark labour reforms like abolishing exploitative ‘kafala’ system and fixing a new minimum wage.

The AI said – in its report – that it spoke to 105 women, who had been employed as live-in domestic workers in Qatar and found that their rights were still being abused and violated despite government reforms aimed at improving their working conditions. Some women had been victims of serious crimes like sexual assault, it reads, adding that as many as 90 of the 105 women contacted by the London-based advocacy group said they regularly worked more than 14 hours per day; 89 reported regularly working seven days a week; and 87 had their passports confiscated by their employers. “Half of the women worked more than 18 hours per day, and most had never had a single day off at all.”

Some also reported not being appropriately paid, while 40 women described being insulted, slapped or spat at, it adds.

All of this gruesome treatment of domestic workers had taken place despite in 2017 Qatar introducing the Domestic Workers Law, which stipulated limits on working hours, mandatory daily breaks, a weekly day off and paid holidays. “The introduction of the 2017 Domestic Workers Law was a step forward for labour rights protection in Qatar,” head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International Steve Cockburn was quoted in the report. “Sadly, the accounts of the women we spoke to make it clear that these reforms have not been properly implemented or enforced.”

“Almost all had their passport confiscated by their employers, and others described not getting their salaries and being subjected to vicious insults and assaults,” said Cockburn.

The Gulf state hosts around 173,000 migrant domestic workers. Some of the women interviewed were still in their jobs, whereas others had left but remained in Qatar, and others had returned to their home countries.

According to their contracts, domestic workers should work no more than 10 hours a day, six days a week, which is already higher than standards set out by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). On an average they worked 16 hours per day, without being paid any overtime.

The Qatari Domestic Workers Law limits working hours to a maximum of ten hours a day but allows for this to be extended, if agreed by the worker. Many women said they felt scared to refuse their employers’ endless requests for more work, even when they needed to rest, the report reads, adding that at least 23 women said they were not given enough food and felt hungry during their employment in Qatar. “Some women also described sleeping in cramped rooms, in some cases on the floor or without air conditioning.”

Forty women reportedly said they had suffered verbal and physical abuse such as degrading treatment, shouting and insults. Another 15 women said they faced physical abuse at the hands of their employers or family members, including spitting, beating, kicking, punching and hair-pulling. As many as five women had been sexually abused by their employers or visiting relatives. Most women felt they could not complain to the police for fear of retaliation by their employers.

The rights group notes that Qatar has utterly failed to hold abusive employers to account.

As a party to various international treaties prohibiting human rights abuses, Qatar is obliged to protect all workers and to provide remedies when those rights are violated. “We are calling on the Qatari authorities to take concrete steps to ensure full implementation of the law, establish strict inspection mechanisms, and take serious actions against abusive employers,” Cockburn said.

Qatar has utterly failed to hold abusive employers to account, which means there is little to deter future abuses. Practices such as passport confiscation and unpaid wages, which indicate forced labour, are not being automatically investigated, and rarely face consequences even when they refuse to hand passports over or pay dues, the report reads.

Prior to 2018 domestic workers had no access to grievance mechanisms, but when Qatar established the Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes, they were finally allowed to submit complaints to these tribunals. However, the process remains beset with delays and other issues. More than half the women AI spoke to reported delayed or unpaid wages, but the very few who felt able to submit claims to the Committees found the process slow and stressful.

One major flaw in the system is that domestic workers risk losing their legal status, income and a place to stay while their complaints are processed. They need a safe refuge and income to support themselves during the process; however, with a government-run shelter not fully operational, complaining at the Committees is not a viable option for most women, it adds.

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