Qatar to allow trade union, scrap 'sponsor' system

AFP, Tuesday 1 May 2012

Gulf state is mulling an independent trade union to push for workers rights, according to reports in Emirate media

Qatar workers
More than 20,000 workers are expected to be employed by the Doha metro project (Photo: Reuters)

Qatar is to allow the establishment of a trade union to protect labour rights and scrap the "sponsor" system for foreign workers, a top official said in local dailies on Tuesday.

The union, independent from the labour ministry, "will have the right to receive the complaints of workers and protect their rights," the ministry's undersecretary Hussein al-Mulla told Alarab daily.
 
The union "will be run by Qataris but as a foreigner you will have the right to vote but not run in the board of directors elections," he said, adding that the project awaited the emir's approval.
 
The Gulf state will also scrap the much-criticised sponsor system for foreign labour, as it aims to gradually recruit one million workers for the 2022 World Cup tournament it is to host, said Mulla.
 
"There is an intention to cancel the sponsor system and replace it with a contract between the worker and the employer," he told the daily.
 
Branded by human rights bodies as akin to slavery, the sponsor system requires that all foreign workers be sponsored by local employers, keeping them under the full control of their bosses.
 
In some cases, employers hold workers' passports and can deny them permission to change jobs.
 
Gulf countries employ armies of foreign workers to run their oil-fueled economies, doing everything from menial jobs to running companies.
 
Qatar has a population of about 1.5 million people, of which less than 300,000 are nationals.
 
Of the six energy-rich Arab states in the Gulf, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman allow labour unions while they are still banned in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
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