Qatar is signaling rejection of demands by human rights and trade union activists to grant trade union and collective bargaining rights to its majority migrant worker population with the detention and likely deportation of more than 100 predominantly South Asian laborers, who went on strike to protest low pay as well as poor working and living conditions.
Doha News reported that the workers, among the lowest paid in the wealthy Gulf state, were arrested on the third day of their strike after scuffles broke out with police. Those detained were among some 800 striking workers primarily employed by two companies. Qatar Freelance Trading & Contracting and Qatar Middle East Co.
Online business directories describe Qatar Freelance Trading & Contracting as a manpower supplier or recruitment agency. A Qatar Foundation study designed to set out ethical standards for the recruitment of foreign labour earlier this year defined manpower suppliers as “agencies that recruit and ‘warehouse’ migrant labour, hiring (or leasing) them out to companies and other organizations on short-term or seasonal bases.”
Quoting anonymous executives of unidentified agencies, the report suggested that workers employed by these agencies were forced to pay for the cost of their recruitment in violation of what the Foundation defined as ethical recruitment principles that seek to ensure workers’ rights and shield them from exploitation. The 162-page report said it was able to identify only two agencies that it would define as ethical recruiters.
Striking workers told Doha News that they were paid less than the legal minimum wage in Nepal and were refused compensation if they fell ill. The workers charged that once in Qatar they had been forced to replace contracts they had signed before their departure with blank agreements which meant they were being paid less than had been originally agreed and enjoyed fewer benefits such as a food allowance.