Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup, has gone to great lengths to assure the international community labor conditions are improving for workers.
But on the ground, foreign laborers told Asia Times they are still working on tourist visas, unable to benefit from landmark labor reforms – or unaware of the changes.
Turning onto the road to Mesaieed, an industrial area south of the Qatari capital Doha, the road immediately changes, from a smooth, soundless drive, to the crunching of gravel. The eyes take a few seconds to adjust to the darkness, except for the flash of a face staring at the screen of his phone or the glow from a tip of a cigarette as a man or two stands outside box-like buildings.
Grayish-blue work clothes hang in the open area of the entrances of these structures. A figure steps outside and flings a garment on the clothesline.
“I was told before coming to Doha that after the two-year contract will be completed, I will be able to visit family in Bangladesh. And if I didn’t want to go, I would be given that money,” said Muhammad, a Bangladeshi worker who came to Qatar in 2013 and is housed in one of the residential buildings in the industrial area.
Muhammad says he is owed compensation for two return tickets but has received no money as yet. He says other workers in his industrial unit have faced the same issue.
“I didn’t visit home this year. I received no money for my ticket. My passport is with my contractor. I can’t leave without his approval,” he said.
The International Labor Organization on Tuesday hailed new legislation passed in Qatar which will allow most migrant workers to leave the country without securing exit visas.
“This first step towards full suppression of exit permits is a clear sign of commitment by the Government of Qatar to labor reforms,” said Houton Homayounpour, who heads the ILO Project Office in Qatar.
Issa Saad al-Jafali al-Nuaimi, Qatari’s minister of administrative development, labor and social affairs, said: “The adoption of this law is another step in our continued drive to provide decent work for all migrant workers in Qatar and to ensure their protection.”
Doha, after coming under fire from rights groups and the international community over workers’ rights, in May ratified two human rights treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
These treaties oblige Qatar to ensure workers have the right to freely choose their work, fair wages and safe working conditions. Those obligations apply to citizens as well as the migrant workers who make up at least three-fifths of Qatar’s 2.5 million population.
The two covenants go hand in hand with a technical cooperation agreement Qatar made with the ILO in October 2017.
Doha agreed to set a minimum wage and abolish the kafala , a sponsorship system prevalent across the Gulf and Middle East that binds laborers to their employers and prevents them from leaving the country or changing jobs.
The Qatari government also vowed to promote the voices of its workforce by creating joint committees in which workers would have their own representation.