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  • Migrant workers in Qatar are subjected to a labor system that leaves them vulnerable and exploited by employers.

    Migrant workers in Qatar are subjected to a labor system that leaves them vulnerable and exploited by employers. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 August 2019
Opinion

The charge came after a two-day strike by South Asian workers over poor working conditions.

A number of human rights organizations condemned Qatar’s treatment of workers and called on the Gulf state to abolish the “kafala” system, after a two-day strike by South Asian workers over "miserable" working conditions.

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The protests took place Aug. 4 and 5 and the strikers denounced the treatments they are subjected to by their employers, including the seizings of their passports, the high recruitment fees they are compelled to pay, the delays or no payment of their wages, and the bans on trade unions. 

However, one of the main sources of criticism towards Qatar is its persisting use of the “kafala” system.

The “kafala” sponsorship system is used to control migrant workers, principally in the construction and domestic sectors. It is in force in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. 

It requires the workers to have a national sponsor, usually their recruiter, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. The practice is known for creating easy opportunities for employers to exploit workers, ranging from taking away their passports to abusing them with very little chance of legal repercussions.

"To see hundreds of migrant workers going on strike despite a ban on their right to strike goes to show how little has improved for workers on the ground," said Hiba Zeyadin, who focuses on Gulf rights for Human Rights Watch. 

The protests came as the Emirate continues to face criticism for its treatment of migrant workers ahead of the 2022 World Cup. 

"The government's reaction to the strikes, wherein it allowed the migrant workers to protest and promised to 'find solutions' is indicative of Qatar's sensitive position three years ahead of the World Cup,” Zeyadin added.

Qatar officials have promised on many occasions to remove the kafala system but have failed to keep this engagement since the country was granted to host the international football tournament. 

The emirate has presented some labor reforms since 2017 to meet international standards, but rights groups say these are often not enforced.

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