The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said he believes that 2022 World Cup host Qatar has a “real and authentic will” to tackle labour abuses.
While Qatar has come under fire for its treatment of around 2m foreign workers, Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein said he had seen signs of progress in the Gulf state after discussions with the Qatari government.
Hussein backed proposed reforms to the controversial “kafala” labour laws, which force foreign workers in Qatar to ask permission from a local “sponsor”, normally their employer, before changing jobs or leaving the country.
“Of course, this does not mean that there are no violations,” he told a press conference in Doha. “In all conditions we are going to find violations, regardless of the steps taken by any government.”
Hussein also queried when the proposed changes would be introduced.
Qatar has introduced a wage protection system, intended to ensure that migrant workers receive their salaries, and it has opened the $825m Labour City, which will house 70k workers (pictured).
In December Human Rights Watch (HRW) published new guidelines that it said construction companies working in the Gulf states should follow to avoid labour abuses.
HRW said its latest guidelines would help ensure basic rights for migrant workers in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Recommendations include ensuring contractors and subcontractors pay all recruiting fees, provide decent accommodation, stick to regulations concerning working hours and overtime pay, and pay workers’ wages on time.
They also recommend construction firms provide workers with places to keep their passports, as these are frequently confiscated by employers as a means of maintaining control over the workforce.
The NGO praised Saudi Arabia, the region's biggest economy, which this year imposed or increased penalties for violations of labour laws, and the UAE, which on 1 January put in place reforms aimed at tightening oversight of employment agreements. HRW also said Qatar had made changes to labour policies.
But it added: “Migrant workers in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries frequently experience hazardous, sometimes deadly, working conditions, long hours, unpaid wages, and cramped and unsanitary housing.
“With the exception of Bahrain, GCC governments ban migrant workers from forming unions to collectively bargain with their employers.”
In a report HRW said many migrant workers incurred large debts to pay recruiters in their home countries to obtain their jobs. Such costs could run to $3k and could take labourers up to three years to pay back. Access to legal and judicial remedies was extremely limited, said the NGO.
HRW also urged companies to appoint outside monitors to ensure workers are receiving basic labour protections.