An Amnesty International reports paints a bleak picture on the situation of migrant domestic workers in Qatar, highlighting testimonies of exploitation, discrimination and violence that the watchdog group says legislation needs to address.
The report, titled “‘My sleep is my break’: Exploitation of Migrant Domestic Workers in Qatar,” documents hardships faced by migrant domestic workers, including purported deception in the recruitment process, denial of their labor rights and extreme working conditions.
Researchers involved in the study also “heard shocking testimonies of violent abuse, including women who reported being slapped, pulled by the hair, poked in the eyes, and kicked down the stairs by their employers,” Amnesty said on Wednesday, in a statement about the report.
James Lynch, the author of the report, told Al Arabiya News Thursday that migrant domestic workers and other groups of workers in Qatar are excluded from the labor law.
“Domestic workers are excluded from the legal protection on the maximum number of hours they are allowed to work,” he said, noting one of the effects of the exclusion from the labor law.
“Fourteen women interviewed by Amnesty International said they worked for at least 15 hours a day, seven days a week, amounting to average working weeks of more than 100 hours,” according to the report.
Among others, the report draws upon interviews with 52 female domestic workers, interviews with government officials, embassies of domestic workers’ countries of origin and recruitment agencies.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry responded to Amnesty’s findings on domestic workers’ conditions, denying allegations of a lack of legal protection for workers.
“The exclusion of this category [of workers] from the scope of implementing the labor law does not mean that a legal protection of their rights does not exist,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement dated April 17, 2014.
The statement also insists that the Qatari law reserves harsh punishments for cases of physical and sexual violence against domestic workers.
“They [Qatar] say that having a contract gives you legal protection because contracts are legally binding,” Lynch told Al Arabiya News.
“Presumably, the implication is that [the worker] could raise a case against their sponsor but that is not really realistic in a context where domestic workers are abused as we found in our research,” he said.
“They are sometimes not allowed to leave the house, they have their mobile phone confiscated and we don’t know of anyone who has managed to file a claim through the civil courts process,” he added.
In the report, Amnesty International urged Qatar to repeal an article of the labor law to ensure that all workers, including migrant domestic workers, have their labor rights respected.
It also urged Doha to pass legislation that provides specific protective measures to ensure that the rights “of domestic workers are fully respected, compliant with [International Labor Organization] Convention 189 on Domestic Workers and other relevant international standards.”
Lynch, from the watchdog’s Refugee and Migrants Rights Team, said Qatar could use the media spotlight that comes with hosting the 2020 World Cup to act as model for the rest of the region.
“We hope that the World Cup will be held there and will be a positive catalyst for change," he said.
"What were are trying to say is that you [Qatar] are under the spotlight. Be the regional leader, show the rest of the region how to respect migrant workers’ rights."
There are at least 84,000 women migrant domestic workers in Qatar. They are mainly from South and South East Asia.