Migrant labourers work on a construction site on October 3, 2013 in Doha in Qatar
Migrant labourers work on a construction site on October 3, 2013 in Doha in Qatar © Karim Jaafar - Al-Watan Doha/AFP/File
Migrant labourers work on a construction site on October 3, 2013 in Doha in Qatar
Last updated: April 1, 2014

UN labour agency says Qatar must end union restrictions

Qatar must overhaul its employment laws because they fly in the face of global rules on trade union rights, the UN labour agency said, in fresh criticism of the 2022 World Cup host.

In an official document sent to AFP Tuesday, the International Labour Organization's (ILO) freedom of association committee urged Qatar to remove a host of restrictions on forming unions and striking, and protecting workers against discrimination.

"The committee requests the government to initiate without delay a labour reform, and expects that this process will include the full participation of the social partners," it said in a report.

Qatar's treatment of migrant workers is in the spotlight due to its massive infrastructure-building programme as it prepares to host football's showcase in 2022.

The committee underlined that according to the Gulf emirate's own figures, migrant workers account for 93 percent of the country's labour force.

Most of them hail from South Asia, and are brought in under the "kafala" visa-sponsorship system, which ties them to their employers.

"The committee urges the government to eliminate any restrictions placed on the freedom of association rights of migrant workers," it said.

"The right of workers, without distinction whatsoever, to establish and join organizations implies that anyone legally residing in the country benefits from trade union rights without any distinction based on nationality," it said.

But it also questioned rules governing union rights for Qataris.

The committee had scrutinised Qatar's record during a closed session last month after receiving a complaint from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Campaigners say the migrant workers building multi-billion-dollar infrastructure, both for the World Cup and in general, face harsh living and working conditions in energy-rich Qatar.

Human rights campaigners Amnesty International have said such workers are treated like "animals," with hundreds perishing on the emirate's construction sites.

The ITUC has warned that at current rates, as many as 4,000 might die by the time the tournament kicks off in eight years' time.

The ILO committee said that the emirate had defended its rules and had insisted that the ITUC complaint was "malicious and seeks to undermine the reputation of the state as it prepares to host the World Cup".

But the committee said it was concerned at the "seriousness of the allegations" against the emirate.

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