Qatar’s efforts to improve the conditions and rights of its migrant workers have been recognised by the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) decision to close its complaint against the Gulf state.
The United Nations agency for labour rights submitted a complaint against the small-but-wealthy country three years ago following global media coverage of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup-related construction boom.
Concerns about the human rights of the 1.6 million migrant workers in Qatar have ranged from basic health and safety issues on construction sites, to the extreme heat they have to work in for much of the year.
But the most controversial aspect has been the “kafala” system that contractors across the Middle East use to bring in and monitor foreign workers, as it means workers need their employer’s permission to change jobs or go home.
Under pressure, the organisers of the Qatar World Cup — the Supreme Committee for Legacy and Development — banned companies with stadium contracts from using the kafala system and have forced them to improve living and working conditions for their staff.
And now, it seems, those reforms are going to be extended to the hundreds of thousands of workers building World Cup-related infrastructure.
In a statement, ILO director general Guy Ryder said: “The ILO welcomes the commitment of Qatar to engage in substantive cooperation with the organisation for the promotion and protection of workers’ rights.”
As a result, the ILO confirmed it was withdrawing its complaint and launching a “comprehensive three-year technical cooperation programme in Qatar.”
This programme aims to improve conditions and recruitment practices for migrant workers, ensure timely payment of wages, enhance protection from forced labour and give workers a bigger say in labour-related matters.
In addition, it will support the Qatari government’s moves to replace the kafala system with a contractual employment relationship and to stop the confiscation of passports and restrictions on changing jobs.
The ILO’s decision comes on the eve of the first report of FIFA’s new human rights advisory board, which was set up earlier this year to improve the global football federation’s approach to protecting human rights in nations hosting tournaments and better promote diversity and equality throughout the game.