-Hello, and welcome to a new edition of the ILO's Future of Work podcast.
I'm Salwa Kanaana.
We're in the run-up to the FIFA 2022 World Cup football
or soccer tournament,
undoubtedly, one of the world's biggest sporting events
and the eyes of the world have been drawn to Qatar,
the country hosting the 2022 tournament.
Much of the discourse has focused on labour rights and labour conditions
in the country.
With me today is Max Tunon, Head of the ILO Project Office in Qatar,
and the Chief Technical Advisor of the Technical Cooperation Programme
between the ILO and the State of Qatar.
Max, hello, and welcome to the Future of Work podcast.
How are you today?
-I'm doing very well, Salwa how are you?
-I'm very well, and thank you very much for joining us today.
To start, please give us some background about the programme that you manage.
When was this joint programme launched, and what does it work to achieve?
-Sure. The ILO opened up the office in Qatar in April of 2018.
We are supporting the government and other partners to develop
a very comprehensive and ambitious labour reform agenda.
The programme of work really touches on a number of areas of law and policy,
looking at enhancing existing institutions and building up new ones,
building up social dialogue
and cooperation with global unions and workers and employers on the ground.
In the past five years, we've seen significant change at the heart
of the labour reform agenda, or certainly the changes
to the kafala system.
Now, we never say that the kafala system has been abolished,
but we say that the most problematic elements
have been dismantled,
meaning that now workers can leave the country without permission
from their employers.
Most importantly, workers can change jobs without permission from their employers.
That, fundamentally, addresses that huge imbalance of power
Now workers have the ability to change jobs, they can negotiate
for better working conditions and better living conditions,
and at the same time, employers are incentivized to provide better working
and living conditions and better wages in order to attract and retain
It's really important to emphasize that these changes to the kafala system
are not only useful for workers but also benefit employers.
Employers can benefit from hiring workers locally
rather than relying on international recruitment
and thereby reducing the costs and the risks associated
with international recruitment, so, really, it's a win-win.
-Now, when you speak of workers,
who are you referring to specifically?
What group of workers in the country?
-Well, there are about 2 million migrant workers in Qatar.
Migrant workers make up 95% of the workforce in the private sector.
This migrant workforce is extremely global and diverse, meaning that they come
from all continents and they're in all sectors of the economy
and across all income levels.
Low-wage workers make up maybe half of this number,
so maybe a million low-wage workers, male and female.
The vast majority of those are coming from Asia, particularly South Asia,
but we see also growing migration flows from parts of Africa as well.
Low-wage workers who are more vulnerable
are working in sectors such as construction, security,
domestic work, et cetera.
It's really important to emphasize that these reforms benefit
and affect everyone, all workers.
When we talk about the ability to change jobs,
the ability to leave the country without permission from your employer,
the ability for workers to form or to be elected as representatives
in their companies.
These are changes that can affect workers in any sector of the economy
across all income levels.
-You mentioned domestic workers, what do we mean by domestic work,
and why is it singled out from other forms of work?
-There are maybe 200,000 or so domestic workers in the country,
workers within households.
There is a specific legislation that has been adopted in 2017
that provides protection for domestic workers.
It's the first legislation that was adopted in the country
to provide them with rights and to recognize domestic work as work.
These are both male and female domestic workers.
Obviously, because of the very nature of the work,
there are added vulnerabilities there.
One of the key issues that we still are looking to address is
how more domestic workers can benefit from the reforms.
The reforms around labour mobility, for example,
but also around the legislation protecting domestic workers
that govern working time and domestic workers' rights
to one day off a week at least.
There are still gaps when it comes to awareness among domestic workers
and among employers of domestic workers.
This is really one of our priorities.
How can we raise more awareness?
How can we ensure that these rights are respected?
We're working very closely with the IDWF,
the International Domestic Workers Federation.
They have a presence on the ground in Qatar,
helping to disseminate information to domestic workers,
building up networks of domestic workers across different nationality groups,
and also providing training and advisory services,
not only to the government but also to recruitment agencies who play
a vital role in the employment relationship
between employers and domestic workers.
-Can you tell us about the minimum wage in the country?
What developments have taken place on that front,
who does it apply to, and how significant is it?
-The non-discriminatory minimum wage came into force in March of 2021,
and it's really significant for three reasons.
Firstly, it's non-discriminatory, meaning it applies to all nationalities,
all sectors of work, including domestic work.
Secondly, it's quite unique in that it not only establishes
a minimum threshold for the basic wage but also minimum thresholds for the food
and accommodation allowances on top of that.
Thirdly, and very importantly,
the law establishes a minimum wage commission.
This commission will study the impact of the minimum wage
on a periodic basis and propose adjustments.
It's not set at this rate forever.
We've commissioned research in the middle of this year, which will inform the work
of this minimum wage commission.
When the legislation came into force in March of last year,
280,000 workers, or 13% of the workforce, benefited from this change.
This is having not only an impact on the lives of workers in Qatar but also
on their family members back home.
In the study that I mentioned that we conducted this year,
we found that those lowest wage earners are sending home 81% of their income
Because they have very low level of expenditure in Qatar,
their employer is providing food, accommodation, transportation, et cetera,
they are able to save a huge proportion of their income and send it home
to benefit family members back home.
Now, we see a high degree of compliance when it comes to the application
of the minimum wage, but one of our key priorities
is still wage protection.
There are still too many instances in which workers are not receiving
their wages on time.
There are better systems in order to detect and address this.
There is now an online complaints platform
which has really facilitated workers' access
to the grievance mechanisms.
There are now dedicated labour courts,
and also, there is a workers' fund, a government fund
that has been established to pay out workers
once they get a court ruling in their favour so that they don't have
to sue their employer in order to recover their wages.
This fund has paid out $320 million US dollars
in just a few years to workers, which also demonstrates the scale
of the problem when it comes to wage abuses.
-Max, many of these workers
that you mentioned work,
often, in very high temperatures.
Can you tell us, please, a bit
about what the joint ILO-Qatar Technical Cooperation Programme
to address the whole issue of heat stress and working under heat stress?
-Obviously, occupational heat stress is one of the priorities given
the conditions in Qatar, especially during the summer.
In 2019, we commissioned research jointly from the ILO,
the Ministry of Labour, and the Supreme Committee
for the Delivery and Legacy of the World Cup.
We brought in a research team from the University of Thessaly in Greece
to conduct the groundbreaking research, the most comprehensive research
of its kind, looking at the impact of heat stress on workers' health,
and also to test various mitigation strategies,
including hydration strategies, work/rest ratios, clothing strategies,
From that research
which we conducted both on a World Cup stadium site,
but also a small farm, we're able to see what is the true impact
and what measures can be taken to reduce the risk of heat stress.
This informed new legislation that was adopted in 2021.
We believe that this is the most progressive legislation
that exists on occupational heat stress, and is very significant in that it extends
the prohibited working hours during the summer months.
Now from the 1st of June to the 15th of September,
from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM,
all outdoor work is prohibited.
In addition, there is a threshold at which all work must stop regardless
of the time of day or the time of year.
all outdoor workers must undergo annual health screenings
to identify potential conditions which may increase their vulnerability
or their susceptibility to occupational heat strain.
Conditions like diabetes, hypertension, et cetera.
We've seen that this legislation is already having an effect.
We looked at the number of patients admitted to clinics
with heat-related disorders over the past four years before
the legislation was introduced and after the legislation was introduced.
We can see that this recent summer, for example, there were about 400 patients
that were admitted
to clinics with heat-related disorders.
This is a steep decline, about a 77% decline
from the number admitted in 2020.
It's really showing that this legislation has at least contributed
to safer work environments in Qatar.
I think that this legislation will also have regional and global implications.
When we look at prohibited working hours in Qatar, if you add them all up,
if you tally them all up,
there is about 588 working hours that are prohibited.
That's more than double
the prohibited hours in many other countries in the region.
We believe that the research and the legislation will also hold lessons
for other countries.
We saw this summer how many workers
across the Northern Hemisphere were affected
by rising temperatures.
We believe that this legislation and the lessons can be applied
to other contexts, certainly, beyond the region.
-Regarding other factors relating to occupational safety and health,
including serious workplace accidents,
there are vastly varying figures which have been published on the number
of work-related deaths amongst migrant workers in Qatar
in recent years.
Can you put all this into context for us?
Do we have an actual number of work-related fatalities in the country?
Can you shed light on why there are so many varying figures?
-Yes. I think there are three figures that are circulating,
but they're all looking at different populations.
I think the one that gets most traction
is certainly 6,500 deaths.
This comes from a Guardian article from 2021,
but it's really important
to go back to the original article in the context provided there.
That context is often not replicated when the number is cited
over and over again.
6,500 relates to the overall number of South Asian nationals
who've died in Qatar over a 10-year period.
It doesn't distinguish
between whether these are work-related deaths
or non-work-related deaths.
In fact, these deaths include people who are not economically active,
people under the age of 18, students, spouses, people over the age
of 60, et cetera.
Also, importantly, it doesn't really contextualize the size
of the South Asian population in Qatar.
The population in Qatar of South Asian nationals is huge,
about 50% to 60% of the overall population,
and incredibly diverse.
They are not all working in construction.
They're working in every sector of the economy across all income levels.
It's very misleading to attribute all of these deaths to work,
to construction, and certainly to the construction of World Cup sites.
the government was not able to respond
with an accurate figure on what is the actual number of work-related deaths
in a year or over 10 years.
We carried out work and published a report in November of last year which presented
how data is currently being collected
in the state of Qatar when it comes to occupational injuries.
We found that different ministries and different health institutions
are collecting data in different ways using different data points.
When you try and aggregate this or pull this together,
it's impossible to come up with one definitive figure.
We commissioned our own work working with the Medical Research Center
and other institutions,
and we found that, in 2020, just for one year,
there were 50 work-related deaths, 506 severe injuries,
and 37,000 mild and moderate injuries.
We can break this down by the cause of injury, the nationality of the worker,
their age, sector of work, gender, et cetera.
We're using this to design more effective prevention strategies.
We're using it to inform law and policy.
We're using it to train labour inspectors and also to raise awareness among workers
At the same time, the report highlighted a number of gaps.
We're also looking at how we can strengthen data collection
within the government.
We're seeing progress now on a number of those recommendations,
including how data can be collected in a more harmonized way
and more systematic way,
but very importantly, one of the key recommendations is that,
still, there needs to be more investigations of deaths
and accidents that may in fact be work-related,
but are currently not being categorized as such.
The other data point relates to deaths on World Cup sites.
Now, this is not our data.
This comes from the Supreme Committee organizing
the World Cup.
They've found that there were three onsite deaths
in the construction of the World Cup stadiums
and 37 offsite deaths.
One thing that's important to contextualize here is that at the peak,
the number of workers building the World Cup Stadia
and related World Cup sites was 32,000 workers.
That's less than 2% of the overall workforce in Qatar.
The other thing to point out is that it's widely recognized
that the Supreme Committee has among the highest safety
and health standards in the country.
They've been working with the BWI, the Construction Workers Union since 2016.
BWI has been conducting inspections on-site
since then and publishing reports.
They've publicly stated how the conditions on these sites are comparable
to what they see in Europe and North America.
Another important piece of context to say that the number of people working directly
on the stadiums is a very small proportion of the overall workforce,
and their standards are generally higher than most.
-Thank you very much.
I'm going to move on to a different subject,
a slightly different subject now.
The ILO highlights that effective social dialogue
between governments, employers, and workers
and sound industrial relations are very powerful means
to promote social justice, inclusive economic growth,
and decent work for all.
Max, can you tell me--
How much of a voice do migrant workers in Qatar have in decision-making
that affects their rights and well-being?
Is the Joint Technical Cooperation programme addressing this issue
in any way?
-There are no independent trade unions
in Qatar. What was negotiated
with the International Trade Union Movement
and the government of Qatar, and the ILO
at the outset of this technical cooperation programme was
to start by building up workers' voice and social dialogue
at the enterprise level.
In 2019, new legislation was adopted that governs joint committees,
For the first time in the region, there
are elected migrant worker representatives
at the enterprise level.
This is voluntary, and we've been promoting joint committees
with the government who are actively promoting these now,
and with the support of the global union federations
who are present in Qatar.
So far, there are about 70 companies that have established
these worker-management committees with hundreds
of migrant worker representatives.
We've now established
what we call central labour management committees.
One exists at the sectoral level within the hospitality sector,
and one exists at the client level, so within Qatar Foundation.
They've mandated that all of their subcontractors
must establish joint committees.
We're in the process of gradually building up
more and more workers' voice, beginning at the enterprise level
but looking then at building it to the sectoral level and then
at the national level.
In addition to the joint committees, we work very closely with the ITUC
and the Global Union Federations.
They've been part of the process since the start, and on a biannual basis,
twice a year, we meet
the ILO, the Ministry of Labour, and the global unions
to discuss the progress that has been made over the past six months,
and also to set new priorities for the next six months.
Beyond that cooperation, at the strategic level,
the global unions and the ITUC also have a presence on the ground.
There are five staff of the global unions.
We call them community liaison officers.
Their job is to disseminate information
within their communities in the different sectors
about the reforms, but also to hear back from workers on where the gaps exist,
where the limitations and the gaps in implementation exists.
They're also building up networks and community leaders in domestic work,
in construction, in transportation, among security guards,
It's a process. It's an ongoing process, and gradually we're seeing results
in terms of more joint committees,
a sectoral committee in hospitality, and this is something
that we're now studying the possibility of perhaps making
these joint committees mandatory for companies of a certain size.
There's recognition from all sides that this is yielding benefits.
It's good for workers. It's good for employers,
especially now that we have labour mobility in the country.
Employers are looking at how they can retain their workers.
They need to listen more closely to the needs of workers.
Also, it's good for the government.
They see this as a way to address issues before they escalate.
-Max, I have a final question for you, which is what now?
The labour reforms you spoke of have largely taken place in the run-up
to the World Cup,
but is that the end of the line?
The current programme ends in December 2023.
Is there more work to be done on labour reform in Qatar?
We all recognize that there's a lot still to be done.
The ILO, the unions, the Government of Qatar,
we know that there are still gaps in implementation.
I've mentioned some of them when it comes to wage protection,
domestic workers' rights, the full implementation
of the kafala reforms but on other areas of work too.
That's why we will continue working well beyond the World Cup.
The technical cooperation programme runs until the end of 2023,
but the government has formally and publicly requested
that the ILO open up a longer-term presence in Qatar.
That will be discussed over the course of 2023.
-Max Tunon, Chief Technical Advisor and Head of the ILO Project Office
Thank you very much indeed for speaking with us today.
If any of you want to find out more about the work that Max and his team
are doing in Qatar, the work of the ILO in the region,
or labour reform in general, you can find links on the webpage
of this podcast and on the ILO website.
Thank you all for joining, and I hope you'll join us again soon
for another edition of the ILO Future of Work podcast.