In the latest development, the state of Qatar has decided to abolish its controversial “Kafala” system. In recent days, there have been several reports and articles which pointed out degrading work conditions and the absence of any mechanism to protect migrant workers in Qatar.
The International Labor Organisation (ILO), a UN employment rights agency which has been working on reforms with the Qatar government since 2017, said the Gulf country’s ministers had agreed to end Kafala and also introduce “a non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first in the Middle East”.
Some good news from soccer + politics: Increased human rights scrutiny ahead of the Qatar World Cup yields progress for migrant workers https://t.co/NAESNybbBB
— Urban Nehrd (@lukegarrott) October 17, 2019
It is important to understand that Kafala ties workers to so-called sponsorship by their employer, meaning they cannot move jobs or leave the country without the employer’s approval. Human rights groups have campaigned for years to have kafala abolished across the Gulf, whose countries use millions of low-paid immigrant workers mostly from the Indian subcontinent.
FIFA’s decision to locate the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has hugely increased scrutiny, and the Qatar government ultimately responded by signing formal cooperation with the ILO promising to implement improvements.
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“Cabinet has adopted new legislation related to a new law for minimum wage and also a new regulation to facilitate labor transfer to a new employer… and a draft law to abolish exit permits,” Labour Minister Yousuf Mohamed al-Othman Fakhroo said at an event in Doha.
Qatar and its labor laws have been under criticism ever since the country was named the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The government in Qatar has repeatedly promised to ensure the safety of workers.
"Young men have a very low incidence of heart attacks yet hundreds of them are dying every year in Qatar attributed to cardiovascular causes. The clear conclusion I draw from this as a cardiologist is that these deaths are caused by deadly heatstroke."https://t.co/xYl2h5KFKW
— Jo Maugham (@JolyonMaugham) October 2, 2019
Some western media outlets claimed that in Qatar migrant laborers are being forced to work in ‘searing temperatures’ which is a dangerous and gross violation of fundamental human rights. A report published in The Guardian points out that “every year hundreds of workers – many young men between 25 and 35 years old – die while working in Qatar. The majority of these deaths are attributed to cardiovascular causes or “natural death” by the Qatari authorities”.
Similarly, according to recent, Amnesty International “hundreds of migrant workers” have been forced to give up on “justice” and return home “penniless” since March 2018.
'Shameful' migrant worker abuse will cast a shadow over the World Athletics Championships in Doha#Qatar#WorldAthleticsChampshttps://t.co/Ur45lHdOe6
— News From Amnesty (@NewsFromAmnesty) September 26, 2019
Interestingly, Qatar is viewing sports and games not only events but an opportunity to expand its tourism industry with an intention to introduce several tourist destinations in the country. The tourism sector, in Qatar, is offering new avenues to the investors and businesses with remarkable growth which has reportedly reached 11% as of August.
The FIFA Club World Cup is an international men’s association football competition organized by the Federation International de Football Association (FIFA), the sport’s global governing body. It attracts people from across the world to watch the tournament which helps the host country to present its soft image before the world.
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The authorities in Qatar have made it clear that every possible step is being taken to ensure the safety of workers from heat-related injuries. The government has introduced a work ban that does not allow manual labor in unshaded outdoor areas between 11:30 and 3 pm from mid-June to August.
Qatar to end controversial migrant worker restrictions https://t.co/1vNer2rHrl
— The Express Tribune (@etribune) October 16, 2019
Qatar’s Government Communications Office said, “Qatar has made substantial progress on labor reforms and it continues to work with NGOs, including the International Labour Organization, to ensure that these reforms are far-reaching and effective.” The authorities have also instructed employers that laborers should not work more than five hours during the summer period.
Moreover, the Qatari authorities and the Supreme Committee also said it had conducted research with the ILO and climate academics to assess the impact of workplace heat stress on workers, which looked at mitigation measures including on-site cooling rooms and improving rest break schedules.