March 21, 2016 / 5:02 PM / 3 years ago

ILO to give Qatar a year to ease forced labor before any investigation

GENEVA (Reuters) - Qatar is making progress toward ending forced labor and improving conditions for migrant workers, but the test will be whether it enforces new legislation from December, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Monday.

A labourer is pictured in a foreign workers dormitory in the Sanaya Industrial Area in Doha, during a government-guided tour, May 3, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

The small, wealthy Gulf Arab state is building facilities to hold the 2022 soccer World Cup and has imported hundreds of thousands of construction workers for that purpose, drawing more attention to the conditions of its migrant labor community.

A high-level ILO team who visited the tiny Gulf state this month after persistent complaints from migrant workers said any decision to appoint an ILO commission of inquiry should be put off for a year to allow time to implement the reforms.

The report and recommendations will be debated at the ILO’s Governing Body on Tuesday, spokesman Hans von Rohland said.

A commission of inquiry is a rare sanction which the United Nations agency has imposed only about a dozen times since Wold War Two, against countries including Myanmar and Belarus.

In a report, the ILO mission said it “acknowledges the recent concrete measures taken by the government and other interlocutors” it met in Qatar to improve migrants’ working conditions.

Yet “certain challenges remain and the implementation of the measures to overcome them are still under way,” said the report by the team led by Japanese Ambassador Misako Kaji and including representatives of governments, employers and workers groups.

From December, a new Qatari law abolishes the “kafala” sponsorship system for migrant workers in favor of a labor contract system, removing all curbs on worker movements.

A worker will no longer be forced to continue a job if there is abuse or exploitation, although domestic workers are excluded from this provision, the report said.

Workers’ groups first complained in 2014 about forced labor affecting a migrant worker population of some 1.5 million - roughly 90 percent of Qatar’s population.

The ILO mission, the second in two years, met the prime minister, ministers of labor and justice, the CEO of Qatar Petroleum [QATPE.UL] and workers’ groups, mostly from the Philippines and Nepal. It visited sites including Khalifa stadium, a major construction site ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

“Concerns raised by migrant workers related to the payment of wages (non-payment, late payment and/or reduction of agreed wages), passport confiscation, long hours of work..., the non-renewal of their identity cards by the employer and difficulty in transferring sponsorship,” the report said.

It said thousands of migrant workers were in accommodation that fell short of minimum standards, with 10-12 workers frequently sharing one small room, and unhygienic and poor kitchen and sanitary facilities.

Qatar announced long-awaited but modest labor reforms in October following international criticism by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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