Fri, Nov 10, 2017 - Page 16 News List

ILO clears Qatar on migrant abuse

AFP, GENEVA, Switzerland

The UN’s labor agency on Wednesday closed a probe into the alleged mistreatment of foreign workers in 2022 FIFA World Cup host Qatar, praising a reform plan agreed by the emirate.

Activists and leading international labor unions had accused Qatar of subjecting migrant workers to slave-like conditions on jobs that included infrastructure projects for FIFA’s top tournament.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2014 opened an inquiry into whether Qatar had violated obligations under conventions aimed at preventing forced labor and failed to set up adequate legal protections for foreign workers.

Qatar has since agreed to changes that include the introduction of a minimum wage, contracts being lodged with the government so they cannot be changed on arrival in Qatar and employers no longer being able to stop staff from leaving the country.

“The transformation of this complaint into a real commitment by the government of Qatar to make positive change on the ground for all workers is a very encouraging development,” ILO governing body chairman Luc Cortebeeck said in a statement.

Qatar called the decision “an acknowledgement of the important steps our government has taken to develop a modern labor system” and said it was “grateful” to the migrant workers building the country’s infrastructure.

“The government will continue improving their living and working conditions in the years ahead, as Qatar pursues our goal of setting the highest standard for worker’s rights and human rights in the region,” Qatar said.

The International Trade Union Confederation, which coauthored the 2014 complaint and earlier this year accused Qatar of making “false and misleading claims” to the ILO, also backed Wednesday’s decision.

“Qatar has set a new standard for the Gulf states, and this must be followed by Saudi Arabia and the [United Arab Emirates], where millions of migrant workers are trapped in modern slavery,” confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow said in a statement.

In February 2015, it introduced a wage protection system designed to ensure workers receive their salaries electronically, either biweekly or monthly.

In December 2015, it announced the end of its much-criticized kafala system, under which all foreign workers needed a local sponsor in order to work, maintain residency, switch jobs or leave the country.

The ILO’s stamp of approval marks a victory for the emirate as it is under pressure on multiple fronts, in particular a bitter diplomatic showdown with Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf neighbors.

Swiss prosecutors are also conducting a wide-ranging investigation into whether Qatari officials bought votes to secure the 2022 World Cup.

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