Qatar: New fund could bring hope to exploited migrant workers
Responding to news that the Emir of Qatar has issued a new law establishing a support and insurance fund for migrant workers, Steve Cockburn, Deputy Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International, said:
“This fund could bring hope to hundreds of migrant workers who have been ripped off by abusive companies while working in Qatar. Although it remains to be seen how the law will be implemented in practice, this is a welcome step towards meeting Qatar’s promises to improve the labour rights of its migrant workforce. In this respect Qatar needs to ensure that funding is both sufficient and timely to address the abuses suffered by victims.
“Last month we documented how scores of migrant workers employed by an engineering company called Mercury MENA were left hungry and desperate when the company stopped paying their wages. Unfortunately, their experience was not an isolated case, and the establishment of this fund could provide much needed relief and protection for workers who find themselves in similar difficulties. We are calling on the Qatari authorities to ensure that Mercury MENA workers, many of whom returned home penniless, are among the first to benefit from this new fund.
“However, there is much more work to be done for Qatar to meet its promises to improve labour rights ahead of the 2022 World Cup. We reiterate our call on the Qatari authorities to fully abolish the abusive sponsorship system which continues to enable the exploitation of so many migrant workers.”
Last night the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, issued Law No.17 of 2018 establishing the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund.
Amnesty International has documented the multiple barriers and lengthy delays faced by migrant workers in Qatar seeking to get their due wages in courts. Abusive employers – such as Mercury MENA – have left migrant workers stranded in difficult living conditions while they fight to secure their unpaid wages, almost always in vain.
In March 2018 the newly established Labour Dispute Resolution Committees, a judge-led “fast track” labour dispute mechanism aiming at improving workers’ access to justice, became operational. While it has improved the speed with which workers’ labour complaints are dealt with, it has failed to find solutions for workers reclaiming unpaid wages when their companies run into financial difficulties and are unable to pay them. Today the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund is supposed to help such cases.
The government of Qatar has repeatedly promised to fundamentally reform its migrant labour system and in October 2017, established a Technical Cooperation Programme with the International Labour Organization (ILO) that could lead to long-promised reform of Qatar’s abusive sponsorship system if the government delivers on the agreement in full.