Under the glare of the international media, Qatar has been taking a number of steps to improve labour rights and working conditions of foreign workers.
The Qatar government recently proposed a number of changes in sponsorship and exit permit rules for foreign workers, and it is expected that many of the proposals would be incorporated into a new law.
However, while Qatar is doing much to improve the lot of foreign workers, the majority of them, who come from South Asian countries like Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, feel the embassies of their countries need to improve their services, too.
A debate was triggered by London-based newspaper The Guardian, which conducted a live online chat on the issue of migrant workers in Qatar on May 14.
That was the day Doha announced plans to change its sponsorship and exit permit rules for foreign workers.
Guardian writer Pete Pattison and Amnesty International’s James Lynch answered questions from readers across the world on the issue.
Significantly, in reply to a question about why embassies of major manpower exporting countries were unable to engage with Qatar on the issue of labour rights, Pattison said the embassies did try.
He said that as far as the embassy of Nepal was concerned, it was under-resourced.
About the other embassies, Lynch said that in his opinion remittances sent home by migrants were an important source of income for the governments, so their embassies felt they were in a delicate position as they didn’t want to jeopardise recruitment opportunities for their nationals by derailing relations with Qatar.
A number of expatriates from these countries representing a cross section of occupations and age groups said they felt their embassies needed to improve their services to match efforts being made by the Qatar government to improve labour rights.
Indians were particularly critical of their embassy not doing enough to solve the problems of their low-income compatriots who approach the embassy to get their work-related woes (labour problems, in other words) redressed.
Many Indians lauded the embassy for its efficient consular services, but added that more staff and counters were needed to cater to large crowds of people.
“It’s as though every working day a Rajnikanth (a South Indian film star) movie has been released at the embassy,” an Indian said, asking not to be named.
There was criticism of the embassies of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal as well by expatriates from the respective countries.
People of different nationalities this newspaper spoke to requested anonymity, saying they didn’t want to be quoted as they feared they could be reprimanded for criticising their embassies.