Activist countries

Labor lobby in Africa urges Gulf countries to follow Qatar’s footsteps in labor reforms – Doha News

Kenyan officials recently fired a national who fell ill as a domestic worker worker in saudi arabia and was allegedly denied access to timely medical care.

As part of a long-term strategy to protect employees, a labor lobby in the Horn of Africa is urging other Gulf countries to begin labor reforms similar to those in Qatar.

As reports of domestic worker abuse in Gulf countries mount on Friday, the Horn of Africa Confederation of Trade Unions (HACTU) called for safeguard reforms to ensure that workers in the region are protected wherever they work in the Gulf.

In a bid to accelerate workers’ rights reform, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an association of workers’ groups from eight countries, wrote to Doha and asked it to share its expertise on reform with other Gulf countries.

“We want to replicate the progressive labor reforms in Qatar in other Arab and Gulf countries that have poor laws,” said Kassahun Follo, the general secretary of Hactu.

In a letter to Qatar’s Labor Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri, the union asked him “to help facilitate the protection of the rights of migrant workers from the eight Horn of Africa countries, namely the Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea and Uganda through bilateral and multilateral relations with other Gulf countries,” quoted by reports.

According to the joint appeal, Qatar has recently made “gradual” changes to its immigration policies, and its neighbors “in the Gulf region and the Arab world as a whole, which receive hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from ‘Africa and countries of the Horn of Africa in particular’, should follow suit.

The call came after the association’s annual general meeting in Hawassa, southern Ethiopia, which was sponsored by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The conference was organized by HACTU, an observer accredited to IGAD, against the backdrop of numerous cases of abuse involving workers from the Horn of Africa in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Kenyan officials recently returned a national who fell ill as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia and was allegedly denied access to timely medical care.

HACTU comprises trade unions from all IGAD countries such as Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), Central Organization of Kenya Trade Unions (COTU), Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU), Federation of South Sudan Workers Unions, Sudan Workers Federation. Federation of Trade Unions, Uganda National Organization of Trade Unions, Djibouti Union of Workers and National Confederation of Eritrean Workers.

During a fact-finding visit to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) in February, unions said Qatar was making progress in improving workers’ welfare.

At the time, ITUC-Africa representatives told reporters that they were pleased with the developments in the country and in particular the changes regarding labor regulations such as the Kafala system.

“The ITUC-Africa welcomes the reforms undertaken by the Qatari state and considers them to be progressive,” said the secretary general of the continental organization, Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, before a press briefing.

Labor reforms in Qatar

On March 20, 2021, the Qatari Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs (MADLSA) announced the non-discriminatory minimum wage reform, which applies to all workers of all nationalities, in all sectors, including domestic workers.

In May last year, MADLSA introduced a unified platform for complaints and disputes, allowing all members of the company to submit reports of violations by their employers.

In October 2021, Qatar held its first parliamentary elections for two-thirds of the Shura Advisory Council, where 30 of the Council’s 45 members were elected in a public vote. With a turnout of 63.5%, the elections “triggered intense public debate and limited demonstrations by representatives of certain tribes discriminated against by electoral regulations”.

The Gulf state’s constitution provides for the election of 30 seats in the Shura Council, with the remaining 15 seats appointed by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. In last year’s elections, the emir elected two women, neither of whom stood for election.

Qatar also became the first country in the region to obtain the abolition of the Kafala system in August 2020.

The changes allow migrant workers to change jobs before the end of their contract without having to first obtain a “no objection certificate” (NOC) from their employer, completely dismantling the controversial Kafala system and providing protection for workers in the country.

Prior to the dismantling of the Kafala system in 2020, migrant workers had to obtain permission from their employer by obtaining a “No Objection Certificate (NOC)” before changing jobs.

The law had previously allowed many workers to be exploited and caused an unequal power relationship between workers and their employers, activists say. However, despite the amendment of the law, some private companies would continue to break the law.

Between September 2020 and March 2022, more than 300,000 workers (including 7,000 domestic workers) were able to change jobs according to an ILO report.