Tuesday, November 17, 2015

With controversy surrounding migrant labor, Qatar's new museum is sending mixed messages

The embattled World Cup host Qatar is sending contradictory messages as it struggles with demands to improve migrant labor conditions, answer the mounting questions about the integrity of its successful FIFA bi, confront the fall-out of dropping energy prices, and seek to project itself as both a key Western ally and a useful conduit to more militant Islamist forces.

In an uncharacteristic gesture of openness and transparency aimed to influence Qatari public opinion and project sincerity globally, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani’s mother Sheikha Moza bint Nasser recently opened Bin Jelmood House, a museum that charts slavery throughout history.

Against the backdrop of denunciations by international labor and human rights groups of Qatar’s labor sponsorship system that puts employees at the mercy of their employers, the museum situates the Gulf state’s labor regime in the context of forced labor.

“Many construction workers in rapidly industrializing parts of the world, especially the Gulf region, are considered to be contractually enslaved,” says one of the museum’s explanatory texts in a section dedicated to modern slavery.

The positioning of Qatari labor conditions as enslavement takes on added significance given that foreigners account for 88% of the Qatari population and 94% of its labor force. It also takes on widespread Qatari opposition to fundamental reform, if not abolishment, of the kafala system driven by a fear that any granting of rights to non-Qataris will ultimately lead to Qataris losing control of their society, culture, and state.




Qatari attitudes towards the World Cup and resulting pressure for labor reform are largely colored by fear, irritation with widespread hostility towards the Gulf state, and attitudes towards globalization that bring with it greater external influences and a need for societal and cultural openness.

If the creation of the museum was intended to spark domestic debate that ultimately could give Sheikh Tamim greater flexibility to reform or end the kafala system and send a message of intent to foreign critics, Qatar’s responses to international criticism have projected a very different image.

Last month, Qatar adopted a new law that was seen by human rights and labor activists as putting a friendly face on an onerous system rather than radically reforming a legal framework that they have dubbed modern slavery.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) , in response to the law, is considering launching an inquiry into abuse of migrant workers in Qatar. Adding insult to injury, Qatar’s main rival in the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates, has adopted the very reforms of its kafala system that Qatar promised since winning the World Cup bid five years ago.

All of this is not to say that Qatar is a lost case but illustrative of the multiple pressures the Gulf state is balancing and has done so poorly. The awarding of the World Cup and the associated criticism of Qatar has however not been wholly without effect even if the Gulf state’s responses are often too little, too late.

Conditions for workers on World Cup-related projects rather than broader infrastructure projects that were planned independent of the tournament have improved dramatically as a result of workers’ standards adopted by several Qatari institutions. Improvements include the 2022 Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy but the problem is that those standards have yet to be incorporated in legally binding national law.





The government moreover seems keen to improve material conditions of workers without tinkering fundamentally with onerous aspects of kafala involving restrictions on freedom of movement and travel and the right to change employment. In a bid to demonstrate sincerity, Qatar opened the first phase of a city for 70,000 workers earlier this month, the first of seven such facilities that constitutes a significant improvement on current living and working conditions.

The timing of debate in Qatar about far-reaching labor reform could not be worse. It comes as the country’s social contract in which citizens are offered a cradle-to-grave welfare state buffeted by an absence of income and sales taxes and generous subsidies for energy, utilities, and food in exchange for acceptance of absolute rule is being called into question. Driving the fraying of the social contract are lower global energy prices and the need to rationalize and diversify the country’s economy.

Sheikh Tamim warned earlier this month that the state could no longer “provide for everything.” He bemoaned the fact that subsidies and benefits reduced the “motivation of individuals to take initiatives and be progressive.” Anticipating Qatar’s first budget deficit in 15 years, Sheikh Tamim stressed that the government’s new budget would aim to root out corruption, eliminate wasteful spending, and streamline the country’s bloated bureaucracy.

Senior development and planning official Saleh bin Mohammed Al-Nabit said it was “urgent” for Qatar to gain new sources of revenue through taxation and rationalization of subsidies and government support program.

Qatar’s inability to counter mounting international criticism and questions about the integrity of its World Cup bid also casts a shadow over Sheikh Tamim’s willingness or ability to radically reform labour laws. Already facing a Swiss legal inquiry into its bid and potential questioning by the US Department of Justice, in the latest twist Qatar has been linked to alleged bribery in Germany’s successful bid for the 2006 World Cup.

Critics charge that rather than being transparent about its bid, Qatar is seeking to dominate if not hijack the debate about integrity of sport through its largely state-funded International Center for Sport Security (ICSS). ICSS’s credibility has been called into question by its refusal to investigate or comment on the Qatari bid and the way some of its senior executives were hired.

Qatar did itself no favors by recently hosting and giving a platform to a Saudi Imam Aidh Abdullah Al-Qarni, who glorified Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Critics have accused Qatar of maintaining ties to militants Islamist and jihadists even if those relationships have at times benefited Western nations and offer a needed back channel.

Qatar’s public association with militant Islamist's amounts to one more nail in a coffin at a time when the country’s credibility is in question on multiple fronts. Economics is forcing it to rethink one of the pillars on which the Al-Thani regime is built and widespread international criticism puts many Qataris on the defensive.

Qatar bets on the fact that its natural resource wealth will secure its position in the world. That could prove to be a risky proposition without Qatar doing more than simply signalling intent through gestures like the slavery museum.

Disclaimer : Following article come from AlBawaba

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Qatar Labour Law Reforms To Fall Short; Migrant Workers Still Vulnerable to Forced Labor.

After over a year of anticipation, the government of Qatar last week unveiled its highly touted labor law reforms. While labor rights activists had hoped the reforms might begin to address the widespread abuse of migrant workers and the prevalence of forced labor in Qatar’s massive infrastructure projects, not surprisingly, they fell far short of bringing the labor code in line with international norms. As Qatar is set to host the 2022 World Cup, and 700,000 more migrant workers have been recruited to develop the country at breakneck speed, the lives of thousands of workers could be on the line. 

As has been widely reported, the labor rights situation in Qatar is dire. Migrants are recruited into the regressive kafala visa system, creating contracts akin to indentured servitude between the migrant workers and their employers. Under the kafala system, workers have no trade-union rights, remain trapped in jobs for which they have likely paid high fees, must receive an exit permit from their employer to leave the country, and have little access to grievance procedures. These conditions make workers particularly vulnerable to conditions of forced labor. In preparation for the World Cup, Qatar, a country of 250,000, has recruited approximately 90% of its workforce, some 1.4 million workers, from abroad. The relentless pressure to develop regardless of the human cost puts working people at risk. 

Unfortunately, the new labor laws do not abolish the notorious exit permits, and workers still have to get their employers’ permission to leave the country. Workers will supposedly be able to appeal to the Interior Ministry, but most workers live in fear of that ministry. Migrant workers do not have the right to join a union or have a collective voice with elected workplace and representative committees. Domestic workers continue to remain wholly excluded from the labor laws. One nominal improvement gives workers the ability to transfer jobs at the end of a contract; however, employers can still elect to recruit into five-year contracts—hardly a speedy exit from an abusive employer.



Access to the labor camps and millions of workers has become increasingly restricted as the government seeks to cover up its mistreatment of workers. Police presence has increased in industrial areas, and journalists were arrested in May for attempting to report on labor camp conditions. Despite the obstacles, the International Trade Union Confederation has obtained undercover footage and produced a new multimedia investigation that includes interviews of workers in Qatar, scenes from the labor camps and stories of workers who have returned to Nepal. 

“International companies doing business in Qatar can no longer be lured by Qatar’s promises of reform,” ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said. “The threat to the reputation of international companies … has increased with the government’s sham reforms.”

The discrimination, racism and denial of rights in Qatar add up to apartheid and a model of employment centered on forced labor. Superficial changes to the kafala system do not address the restrictions on basic worker rights that lead to such widespread exploitation. Governments, corporations, and major sporting and cultural institutions that continue to do business in Qatar are complicit in the abuse. The international community must  express disappointment at this missed opportunity for change and continue to demand real reform, which must include the freedom of movement and the freedom of association. 

Disclaimer : Following article come from AFL-CIO

Monday, November 2, 2015

Tourism to Generate 1.7m Jobs With Working Hour a Week.


As expected, the job occasions in the tourism sector of the Kingdom is to reach about 1.7 million by 2020, according to the Tourism Information and Reasearch Centre (MAS), the statistical division of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH).

These are the total numbers of jobs in the tourism sector including both direct and indirect in the labour market and others sectors associated and profiting from tourism in Kingdom, the latest report by MAS.

The report said that in the tourism sector in 2015 the number of jobs will increase upto 113,048 and after this there will be more increment to 129,526 jobs by 2017 due to the execution of a number of hotel mega-projects acros the Kingdom especially in the two Holy Cities of Makkah and Madinah and in the capital city Riyadh.

MAS figured thatthe number of direct job opportunities in the tourism sector until the end of 2014 reached over 795,000 and rised over 840,000 by the end of 2015, while the indirect was about 397,000 by the end of 2014, and expected to exceed 420,000 by the end of 2015.

The total of both jobs was 1,192,285 by the end of 2014, and rise by the end of 2015 about 1,262,153.


Growth Comes With Loads Of Opportunities

Furthmore, according to the report there would be rapid growth in investments, as the number of tourism accommodation facilities reached 3,710 by the end of 2014, with 1,222 hotels and 2,488 furnished apartments.

As going on with same way, number of hotel rooms in the Kingdom increased 299,500 and furnished apartments 87,050.

Particularly, currently tourism is the second  most important economic sector in the Kingdom, where Saudi has reached 28% and the estimated number of people working in tourism sector by 2025 is predicted to increase 317,352 compared to 94,249 in 2014.

According to industry experts, the tourism sector is probable to make actual difference in national economy and occur as the future alternative to crude oil.

With the increment and decrements of the workers in Saudi Public and Private Sector, let's get to know about working hours of it.

Labour Ministry Said, Saudi Arabia's cabinet has deferred for further study a decision on limiting the private sector work week to 40 hours, part of proposals designed to push more into private employement.

On Twitter late Thursday, the ministry said, the cabinet had delayed its decisions as per the feedback from businessmen. I did'nt say when the decisionn would be made.

As the authorities try to boost the private sector employement in a time of low oil prices they faced a problem, which draining state finances and  threaten to slow the economy.

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Public sector have most workers in Saudi, which gives them benefit of 35 hour work week with big pensions and health benefits too, and Most private sector jobs are held by 10 million foreign workers.

To decrease the burden on public sector and control the number of foreign workers, the government has been considering a proposals to lure more Saudis into private companies by reducing the working week to 40 hours, down from 48 hours in many ways, and increasing weekend to two days from one.

But most of  the business communities has argued that the move would effect the economy by increasing companies cost, deterring investment and companies forcing for the shorter week to hire more foreigners.