Construction workers in Qatar (Jason Larkin/Getty)

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Qatar Foundation slams “usurious” Asian labour agents

16 July 2014 | By David Rogers | 0 Comments

A report commissioned by the Qatar Foundation into the mistreatment of migrant workers has found that most of the blame should be directed at recruitment agencies in south Asia, and has made a set of recommendations radically to improve their treatment, including a minimum wage and a legal requirement that employers pay 100% of the costs of recruitment.

Employees had to pay as much as $5,000 to be accepted by a local labour agency, the report said. To meet these prices they commonly sell their family assets and enter into debt “with usurious interest rates of between 30 and 60%”. 

There was also evidence of kickbacks being paid by the local agencies to the companies in Qatar. “These kickbacks range from $200 to $600 per person,” said the Migrant Worker Welfare Initiative report. This debt burden effectively strips the employee of all bargaining power, and means they are unable to leave an exploitative agreement.

To add insult to financial injury, it said the money extorted from workers was often used to pay the expenses of the hiring company’s managers when they travelled to the recruiting countries, including those for “entertainment”. 

The Qatar Foundation is an influential, state-linked non-profit organisation promoting research, education and human development. Its latest report makes a number of recommendations to improve the conditions of workers.

  • The Qatari government should set up government-to-government agreements with recruiting countries to establish ethical standards.
  • It should make use of direct recruitment over the internet to cut out the agencies. Employing companies should pay all recruitment costs.
  • Employees should arrive in Qatar debt-free. To avoid the use of unregulated sub-agents, the government of Qatar could establish its own recruitment agency with offices in the recruiting countries. 
  • Labour agencies in Qatar should be subjected to tighter regulation to prevent them being used as a way of avoiding the increased cost of directly hiring workers.
  • Workers should sign a standard contract and the whole recruitment process should be formalised and standardised, from the announcing of the vacancy to the beginning of the worker’s employment.
  • There should be a minimum wage for all workers.
  • Workers should be guaranteed an exit visa and they should be given better access to judicial redress when their rights have been violated.
  • The Qatari government should hold orientation seminars for all workers to inform them of their rights and responsibilities.

Taken together the recommendations add up to a kind of worker’s charter, and go considerably beyond the reforms to the guest worker, or kafala, system that was announced in May.

The recommendations are particularly bold given that a recent report by the International Trade Union Confederation found that Qatar’s employment laws were among the worst in the world, from the point of view of workers’ rights.

Ripped off: what private agencies charge

Country average charge ($):

Philippines: 1,130

Nepal: 1,400

Bangladesh: 925

Sri Lanka: 900

India: 1,300

Source: Qatar Foundation