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Labour forums ask Qatar to take 'corrective' steps.

Dietmar Schafers of Germany (fourth from left) speaks at the BWI meeting at the end of their team's three-day visit in the country yesterday. PICTURE:: Shaji Kayamkulam A group of workers' rights activists has urged Qatar to improve the living and working conditions of a section of the low-skilled workers in the country.

They thanked the government for allowing them to visit labour camps in Qatar and said some of the sites they visited were found to be good.

The team said the existing "kafala" system of sponsorship-based employment that gave employers unchecked power needs to be amended.

The representatives of 11 forums affiliated to the Geneva-headquartered Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI) also called for steps to end the illegal practice of collecting recruitment fees from employees by their agents in their home countries.

BWI is a global federal union for workers in the building, construction, building materials, forest and wood and allied industries. It claims to represent 12 mn members from 333 unions in 120 countries.

"Urgent steps need to be taken to ban the illegal and outrageously high recruitment fees," they said in a report which they said they have submitted to the local authorities.

The team members called upon the authorities to ensure that employment contracts issued to the workers be signed in a language that they could also read and understand. "Employment contracts signed in the home countries must be honoured and should not be altered locally without the approval of migrant workers. The local government should consider imposing meaningful sanctions on companies and individuals who violate laws designed to protect migrant workers' rights." The representatives said they were briefed by Qatari authorities on the "Workers' Charter" of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, the body responsible for the delivery of the FIFA World Cup. The one-page document outlines a series of principles on health and safety, employment standards, equality, dignity, wages, working and living conditions, grievances, access to information and training. "These principles are not well defined, do not refer to internationally recognised standards, and do not include workers' rights or trade union rights," they opined.

However, the team members said they found good working conditions in the Sidra hospital project of the Spanish firm OHL and at the Norwegian project of Qatalum, with both the firms having concrete policies and practices on workers protection.

The members said elsewhere their team which consisted of health and safety experts, labour inspectors, and union leaders from nine European and two Asian countries found evidence of wrong practices and gathered testimonies about the violations of internationally accepted labour standards.

The team said: "While there are workplaces that are better off, it does not imply that the situation is the same in the whole country." "The evidence gathered and complaints forwarded to us indicate that the decent work deficit remains widespread and a climate of fear persists. One worker in a slave-like situation is one too many. This is not acceptable and the plans and reforms presented by the authorities lack the urgency needed in this situation," they said in a statement that they released later in the day.

The members said they met many young men from Nepal, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines who have found that their dreams of improving their lives have not been fulfilled by working in Qatar.

The representatives said their inquiries found the workers have no constructive mechanism for filing complaints due to the complexity of the judicial system in Qatar. At the meeting, BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson emphasised that his organisation will try to improve the situation in Qatar.

Besides Yuson, vice-president of the German Labour Union for Construction, Agriculture, Forestry and Environment Dietmar Schafers, Secretary of Netherlands-based ONV Janna Mud (Sweden), Jern Eggum (Norway), Steven De Heyn (Belgium), Gilles Letort (France), William Gois (The Philippines) attended the briefing.

Responding to the BWI team's statement that they were denied access to the light-rail construction site in Lusail on Wednesday, Qatar National Human Rights Committee chairman Dr Ali bin Samikh al-Marri said the visit was only delayed so that safety measures to protect the visitors could be put in place.

He also emphasised the NHRC's interest in pursuing dialogue with international bodies such as BWI.

BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson said the site manager in Lusail told the visiting team that they needed permission to visit the place.

Yuson said the BWI members also visited the Msheireb Properties area, where he said his team members were happy that safety, health and other measures were intact.

Gulf Times Newspaper 2013

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:7QATA
Date:Oct 11, 2013
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