Qatar moves to end modern-day slavery
Qatar will introduce a minimum wage for all foreign workers as part of a reform initiative that the International Trade Union Confederation has termed a breakthrough towards ending modern-day slavery in the Gulf country.
The oil-rich nation has also decided to scrap the controversial “kafala” system that bars foreign workers from changing jobs or leaving the country at will.
The decisions made by the Qatari cabinet on Wednesday would ensure more freedom for foreign workers and allow them to have the necessary means to meet their living expenses.
The changes are good news for Bangladesh, as nearly four lakh Bangladeshis work in the Gulf country.
"This is a very welcome decision. Our workers will be benefited by this," Serajul Islam, labour counsellor at the Bangladesh Embassy in Qatar told The Daily Star over the phone.
There have been allegations that foreign workers don't get the wages promised before their recruitment by Qatari companies. The new minimum wage system would remove these problems, he said.
According to an Al Jazeera report, Qatari Labour Minister Issa al-Nuaimi said they would set up a "Workers' Support and Insurance Fund" which would ensure that overdue wages are paid to workers. And it would operate independently under the auspices of the cabinet.
Belgium-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the world's largest trade union body, said workers' committees would be established in every workplace in Qatar, with workers electing their own representatives.
Also, a special disputes resolution committee with a timeframe for dealing with grievances would be established for ensuring rapid remedy of complaints.
Qatar now employs nearly two million foreign workers.
The country recently came under severe global criticism for exploitation of migrant workers, mostly from South Asia, and also for “kafala” system, as it is in the process of building new infrastructure in the run-up to hosting the 2022 football World Cup.
The ITUC, which has been a major critic of Qatar's migrant labour laws, said under the new measures, employment contracts would be lodged with a government authority to prevent contract substitution.
This would end the practice of workers arriving in the country only to have their contracts torn up and replaced with a different job, often on a lower wage, said the ITUC in a statement.
Also, employers will no longer be able to stop their employees from leaving the country, it said.
Identification papers will be issued directly by the Qatar government, and workers will no longer rely on their employers to provide them with ID cards, without which workers can be denied medical treatment.
“The new guidance from Qatar signals the start of real reforms in Qatar which will bring to an end the use of modern slavery...," ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said in the statement.