Now and before: ITUC commends Qatar reforms to protect workers
The head of the International Trade Union Confederation has commended Qatar on the leaps it has taken in reforming its laws to protect workers supporting the country’s rapid development.
Speaking at the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), Sharan Leslie Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC, said: “As one of the early critics of Qatar when the World Cup was awarded, and having seen labor camps and construction sites a decade ago, it has all remarkably changed.
“There has been a commendable turnaround in the country. For example, the country’s heat stress law is an excellent one, and actually, Qatar is now assisting other nations in Europe, that previously didn’t have heat stress but are now facing it due to climate change.
“I'm not going to tell you that implementations of all laws are perfect. We can all go out today and find cases where workers need support, whether it's health, exploitation, or wage denial.
She praised the major law reforms that the country has implemented. “By law, the Kafala [sponsorship] system is dead, but there are certain employers that are trying to maintain those practices.
“It's no longer about the laws, now it’s about the implementation of the laws. To bridge the implementation gap, the government is actively taking action against offending employers through measures like sanctions, penalties, freezing of assets, and even jail time.”
Speaking on the progress Qatar has made in the last decade, Burrow said: “There is a now and there is a before Qatar, there is a huge difference between the two. I pay tribute to the progress made by the country. If we could move as fast in other countries, as a union leader, I would be delighted.”
The remarks came on the second day of WISH 2022 during a high-level panel to discuss the content of a report titled ‘Promoting health and wellbeing among the migrant workforce’.
Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation, attended the session during which several important issues that affect workers were discussed, including wages, access to health care, mental health, empowerment of the labor workforce, and the role of strict law enforcement to safeguard the rights of workers.
According to Mahmoud Qutub, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s (SC) Executive Director of the Workers Welfare Department, vulnerable groups and evidence-based preventative measures is a topics that the SC has studied extensively over the past few years.
“The SC launched a unique study with Weill Cornell Medicine, where we carried out comprehensive medical assessments of around 1,000 workers. The results showed that the workers had a wider variety of health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiac issues, high cholesterol, and so on.”
Following that study, the SC decided to mandate comprehensive medical examinations for all workers working on the World Cup project. “We updated our policy and standards which are the blueprint that governs how companies work with us. And we introduced comprehensive medical examinations as a requirement for working with the SC. Because of the updated standards, we've effectively carried out over 43,000 individual comprehensive medical examinations.”
He added: “These comprehensive exams have saved many lives. We have seen a steep decline in non-work-related deaths since we instituted the comprehensive examination. They have led to better healthier lifestyles with improved dietary elements.”
A key reform driven by the SC has targeted illegal recruitment fees charged by agents. “This is a global malpractice, over 25-30 million workers globally are impacted by this illegal malpractice,” said Qutub.
“We worked very closely over several years with over 266 contractors on our program to right this wrong, and, in turn, $28.5 billion was committed by these companies, to over 49,000 workers, out of which $22.5 billion has already gone back in the pockets of workers. We're very proud of this.”
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