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Amnesty International: Labor abuses still ‘rampant’ in Qatar

The rights group says that despite recent reforms, Qatar's sponsorship system leaves workers vulnerable to exploitation

Labor abuse remains “rampant” in Qatar despite some reforms introduced since the Gulf Arab state won the right to organize the World Cup five years ago, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

In a statement released before the anniversary of Qatar winning host status for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the rights group said Qatar's kafala work-sponsorship system, puts foreign workers at the mercy of their employers. Foreigners account for 94 percent of Qatar's work force.

Qatar's Labor Ministry declined to comment on the statement, which described recent amendments to labor laws as just “tinkering.”

A ministry official dismissed similar reports by NGOs as aiming to “create negative publicity about Qatar abroad.”

Accusations of graft during its World Cup bid as well as concerns about provisions inside stadiums and the heat of summer months have cast a shadow over the gas-producing nation's efforts to become the competition's first Arab host.

Qatar denies exploiting workers and says it has implemented labor reforms.

A wage protection system requiring companies to pay salaried workers by electronic bank transfer came into force in November, after legislation was signed by Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani giving foreign workers the right to appeal to a government committee if their employer does not sanction their exit.

But labor activists and rights groups say the reforms do not go far enough and that workers are still required to seek their employer’s consent to change jobs or leave the country.

“Under the kafala system it is all too easy for an unscrupulous employer to get away with the late payment of salaries, housing workers in squalid and cramped housing, or threatening workers who complain about their conditions,” said Amnesty's Gulf Migrant Rights Researcher Mustafa Qadri.

“That is why kafala requires a major overhaul, not just tinkering at the edges,” he said.

In an analysis of the reforms, Human Rights Watch has also found that the changes made to the sponsorship system do not go far enough: Workers still require permission to leave the country or to change jobs; domestic and agricultural workers can only switch employers if they can prove their mistreatment has been “arbitrary” or if changing jobs “best serves the public interest.”

Additionally, most of the penalties under the new law affect the workers and not their employers, such as over-staying a visa or performing unauthorized labor.

With nearly $200 billion worth of infrastructure projects planned, hundreds of thousands of workers have been recruited from countries such as India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

On Nov. 21 police were called to break up a rare work stoppage after several hundred men working at the Musheirib building site in downtown Doha went on strike complaining of unpaid wages. Previous labor actions, such as a 2014 strike by construction workers, have been met with arrests and deportations.

Some 260 migrant workers from India have died in Qatar in 2015, according to figures from the Indian embassy in Doha seen by Reuters.

The figure covers all migrant deaths, not just those directly related to labor conditions.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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