The ITF (International Transport Workers' Federation) has backed what it describes as “a historic breakthrough” on eliminating Qatar’s kafala system, which has allowed the exploitation of migrant workers in the Gulf state.
Following years of international campaigning against kafala – a form of indentured labour that in practice has equated to often slavelike treatment of workers – the Qatari government has now gone on record as stating that it will finally be terminated.
ITF general secretary Steve Cotton commented: “Qatar has made this pledge to the global union federations and to our colleagues in the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation), who have led the international effort to remove this system. If that promise is made good then this is a genuinely historic breakthrough.”
“For the ITF this means a potential sea change for transport workers, in aviation, in ports, and in public transport. We will now work within this agreement to build protection for them as workers, with good, sustainable jobs, recognising international standards and best practice.”
ITF president Paddy Crumlin stated: “The existence of the kafala system, and the maltreatment of workers that it permitted has been an international scandal, and we applaud everyone – union, worker, NGO and journalist – who has exposed and fought against it. This promise is great news, which allies well with our own talks with the Qatari government on improving conditions for workers in the country.”
The ITUC has explained that the Qatari government has committed to steps that include:
- Employment contracts will be lodged with a government authority to prevent contract substitution, ending the practice of workers arriving in the country only to have their contract torn up and replaced with a different job, often on a lower wage.
- Employers will no longer be able to stop their employees from leaving the country.
- A minimum wage will be prescribed as a base rate covering all workers, ending the race-based system of wages.
- Identification papers will be issued directly by the State of Qatar, and workers will no longer rely on their employer to provide their ID card without which workers can be denied medical treatment.
- Workers’ committees will be established in each workplace, with workers electing their own representatives.
- A special disputes resolution committee with a timeframe for dealing with grievances will be a centerpiece for ensuring rapid remedy of complaints.
ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow commented: “The new guidance from Qatar signals the start of real reforms which will bring to an end the use of modern slavery and puts the country on the pathway to meeting its international legal obligations on workers’ rights. Following discussions in Doha there is a clear government commitment to normalise industrial protections for migrant workers”
She concluded: “These initiatives have the support of the ITUC, and we hope that implementation will be also supported by the ILO with its technical expertise. Much remains to be done, but these steps open the way for workers to be treated with dignity and for their lives and livelihoods to be protected.