Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Kafala Continues in Qatar

Migrant workers building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup and other big projects in Qatar are still suffering exploitation and severe human rights violations despite promised government reforms, according to Amnesty International.

The report names an engineering company, Mercury MENA, which it says left workers from Nepal, India and the Philippines stranded and unpaid for months in Qatar. Amnesty accuses the company of using the kafala structure – which it describes as Qatar’s notorious sponsorship system that ties employees to a single employer – to exploit scores of migrant workers. In Nepal, people told Amnesty they were owed on average £1,500 by Mercury MENA, and that the kafala system was used to exploit them. One worker said the company had finally agreed in October 2017 that he could leave to work for another company in Qatar, but that in return for that permission, required under kafala, he had to renounce his claim for unpaid wages.

This month the emir of Qatar issued a law abolishing, for most workers, the power of employers to grant or withhold exit permits, which were used to prevent people from leaving the country. However, Amnesty argues that the central exploitative problem with kafala remains, which is that workers are tied to a single employer, and that reform through the ILO process is happening too slowly.

“The exit permit is just one key of Qatar’s notorious ‘kafala’ sponsorship system. This system has fuelled widespread abuse and exploitation of migrant workers, including forced labour,” Amnesty said. “Although today most workers no longer need their employers’ permission to leave the country, they still need a ‘non-objection certificate’ from their employer to change jobs in Qatar. Many employers refuse to provide such certificates, and workers are forced to stay until their contracts finish, which can be up to five years. Workers who leave their jobs without employer permission can be reported for ‘absconding’, attracting a criminal charge that could lead to arrest and deportation. This is in contravention of international labour laws and standards.”

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