A continental workers’ body in Africa on Sunday praised Qatar for its labour reforms, which have improved workers’ welfare amid earlier complaints of rights violations ahead of the FIFA World Cup later this year.
Preparations for the tournament, including construction of stadia, have been fraught with reports of violations such as long working hours, low wages and poor healthcare service for migrant workers in a country that has more than two million foreign employees.
Following the weekend tour of World Cup facilities in Qatar, where many migrant workers from Africa are employed, the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) said the Gulf country has made positive steps to address concerns raised in the past about workers rights.
Officials of ITUC-Africa told journalists on Sunday they were satisfied with the progress, including changing of labour laws to allow workers to change jobs without permission from current employers.
“ITUC-Africa welcomes the pieces of reform that the Qatari state has undertaken and considers them progressive,” the continental body’s General Secretary Kwasi Adu-Amankwah told a briefing on Sunday.
“We had good reasons to issue statements in the past commending and appreciating these efforts. This is because as part of the agency for accountability, we call out undesirable and inappropriate actions of State Actors and Employers. We are not shy to also commend them when they act responsibly.”
The lobby, made up of labour unions from 51 countries including Kenya, says it undertook the trip to Qatar on Saturday and Sunday to assess the developments following damning reports of human rights violations.
Qatar will become the first Middle East country to host a FIFA World Cup.
The country has about two million migrant workers, which is more than 95 percent of the labour force, half of whom are employed in construction while another 100,000 are employed as domestic workers. The rest work in various other jobs.
Most of the workers come from Africa and south Asian countries such as the Philippines.
The 11 African trade union leaders, in the delegation, affiliated to the continental body say they toured the facilities where more than 100,000 African workers are employed.
Kenya’s Francis Atwoli, the Secretary General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions of Kenya (COTU), who is also a member of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation, was among the trade unionists in the tour.
The trip was also dubbed as a “way of building and enhancing social dialogue between the State of Qatar and the African trade union movement”.
The delegation also met with government officials in charge of labour and human rights as well as African workers.
“From these visits and interactions, we are confident that the reforms are real and are being implemented, albeit with some challenges, notably from employers and the established culture of many years,” Adu-Amankwah said, referring to the removal of exit visas, freedom to change employers and implementation of a minimum wage for workers.
“The reforms have also delivered improved health and safety requirements in construction sites and anywhere temperature exceeds a certain degree.”
The country is still struggling to deal with the worker sponsorship system known as Kafala which bonds workers for a specified period to the job they were first contracted for, before they are allowed to change jobs.
Mr Ayuba Wabba, the President of International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC), the global umbrella body for labour unions, told the briefing that Qatar needs support to implement reforms, not a global campaign against it.
“It has nothing to do with labour rights. It has all to do with geopolitical campaigns by certain countries due to Qatar's prominent role in the global stage,” he said.
“What Africa needs is enhanced cooperation with Qatar to ensure mutual collaboration to advance the International Labour Organisation’s decent work agenda, especially in the migrant labour field.”