By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – The International Organization for Labour closed a complaint by workers against Qatar on Wednesday after the government introduced legislation to protect workers and pledged further reforms as well as technical cooperation with the U.N. agency.
The unanimous decision, taken by the ILO’s Governing Body after a 45-minute meeting in Geneva, means it will not set up an ILO commission of inquiry into alleged exploitation in the 2022 World Cup host, a rare sanction.
Qatar signed 36 worker protection agreements with countries that provide much of its labor force, state media reported on Oct 25, weeks before the ILO meeting to decide whether to investigate it for worker abuse.
Qatar’s labor minister Issa bin Saad Al Jafali Al Nuaimi, addressing the ILO forum, said that the government was working to achieve decent work conditions for domestic and migrant workers. It had established committees on labor disputes and was considering a minimum wage without discrimination.
“Qatar will remain mindful to guaranteeing all rights of workers and to safeguard their interests,” he said, adding that it was committed to a three-year program of ILO technical cooperation.
The complaint had “originated out of a deep concern about exploitation exposing almost 2 million workers to forced labor,” the workers’ group spokeswoman Catelene Passchier said.
“While we welcome and support this agreement between ILO and Qatar, we emphasize that nice words and good intentions are not sufficient. Implementation of these intentions in law and practice is critical,” she told the talks.
Qatar is keen to show it is tackling allegations of worker exploitation as it prepares to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, which the Gulf Arab state has presented as a showcase of its progress and development.
Labor and rights groups have attacked the gas-rich state for its “kafala” sponsorship system, which forces the country’s 1.6 million mainly Asian foreign workers to seek their employer’s consent to change jobs or leave the country.
In a statement after Wednesday’s decision, the ILO said that the technical cooperation “will support the implementation of numerous measures adopted by the Government of Qatar to replace the kafala system with a contractual employment relation and to address passport confiscation, contract substitution, as well as restrictions on the ability of migrant workers to change employers and exit the country”.
Martha Newton, deputy under secretary for International Labor Affairs in the U.S. Department of Labor, said the agreement had “the potential to bring significant and lasting reforms to labor relations in Qatar”.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Peter Graff)