DOHA: An important study released by Qatar Foundation on foreign labour recruitment to Qatar has called on the authorities to fix a minimum wage for all occupations in the construction sector and ensure timely payment of salaries.
The report, titled “Migrant Labour Recruitment to Qatar”, was commissioned as part of the Qatar Foundation Migrant Worker Welfare Initiative and addresses several key issues concerning low-skilled migrant workers’ rights. The 160-page document was prepared after visiting five manpower exporting countries in Asia – Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India.
“An assigned minimum wage for all occupations in the construction sector in Qatar, regardless of nationality, would help to prevent the exploitation of workers from particular countries. Cost of food should not be linked to wages and specified clearly in the contract that employers will provide sufficient, decent and culturally appropriate food,” says the report.
“The Qatari authorities should protect workers by ensuring proper and timely payment for their work in accordance with Qatari law. Arrangements should be established that allow workers to have bank accounts in Qatar and require all contractors and subcontractors to pay salaries directly into the bank account (as is the case in Bahrain). Bank accounts may be setup in sending countries with arrangements with Qatari banks, or Qatari banks with arrangements with banks of sending countries, prior to departure,” the report recommended.
The report has called on the authorities reclassify the “recruitment fees” as a form of “bribe” extorted by recruitment agents from hapless workers. The report maintains that that workers should not pay any charges or fees for recruitment and arrive in Qatar debt-free. Employing companies should pay for all recruitment costs (fees and charges) as is the norm for more highly skilled workers and professionals.
The report found that recruitment agents in the sending countries are paying “kickback” bribes to personnel of employing companies in Qatar to secure the labour supply contracts.
These kickback payments range from $200–$600 per person, or more.
Agencies often cover the costs of Qatari company personnel travelling to the sending countries for trade skill testing, including hotel charges, food, “entertainment” and sometimes airfares.
These extra “recruitment costs” are built into the “recruitment fees” unwittingly borne by the low-skilled migrant workers, not the skilled and professional personnel who are fewer in number and usually pay negligible fees, or nothing.
To curb the menace of “free visas” and fake visas, the report called for a close monitoring of Qatari contractors and sub-contractors and their labour suppliers in Qatar to ensure that the visas of workers are commensurate with the positions they have filled.
“This “free visa” practice, common in the construction industry, results in workers having occupations other than those listed in their visa/residence permit and where sometimes workers must pay the sponsor an annual or monthly fee for the maintenance and renewal of the visa and residency.
Thus, workers are caught up in illegal working arrangements from which it is difficult to leave,” says the report.
The report also recommended that ethical recruitment agencies must be employed who take nothing from migrant workers. Sub-agents in local regions, another source of deception and exploitation, should also be regulated, brought under ethical agencies, or not used at all.
This requires the establishment of a comprehensive accreditation process.
Agencies in Qatar who supply (or lease) labour on a temporary basis need to be monitored to ensure compliance with ethical recruitment standards.
The study found that most migrant workers do not sign a contract before their departure to Qatar.
Those who do are more often given the contract to sign under duress, just before their departure, often at the airport when the impetus to leave has already been established, or on arrival in Qatar.
It is also common for companies to ignore these contracts and issue a substitute contract with wages and conditions that are less than originally promised. Workers are either not given a copy of their contract (whether the original or the substitute) or told to destroy the first contract when they arrive in Qatar.
Most contracts do not make clear the terms and conditions for the termination of the contract..
The termination provisions are also linked to the exit visa requirement, so that when a dispute arises, if the termination guidelines are not clearly specified, workers may be denied their freedom to leave the country or to find alternative employment within the country with a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the sponsor.
Foreigners are vulnerable under these conditions and may be subjected to practices of extortion in order to obtain an exit visa or NOC.
The report recommended that a standardized contract be developed in conjunction with all stakeholders that makes terms and conditions of employment clearly understood by the contractor and the worker, including detailed termination conditions and liabilities linked to exit visa and NOC rights.
“The problems of the current private sponsorship system could be overcome by seriously addressing the loopholes that allow its abuse, or have the government undertake the role and responsibilities of sponsorship for all migrant workers.
Regardless of whether such reforms take place or not, sponsor denial of an exit visa or NOC should have automatic independent and speedy judicial review and legal representation with rights of residency and employment until resolved (unless criminal charges are involved),” says the report.
The report called on the authorities to establish a policy that guarantees workers an exit visa or a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for transferring from one employer to another.
This is particularly important in instances where their rights have been violated and verified, such as wages less than originally promised, non-payment of wages, excessive working hours and various forms of abuse where judicial redress should be facilitated.
Compiled by Dr Ray Jureidini, Associate Professor of Sociology at the Institute for Migration Studies at the Lebanese American University, and Director of Research at the Center of Design Innovation at Qatar Foundation. It was published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation digitally on qscience.com.