Qatari authorities are failing to protect the country’s migrant workforce from severe exploitation, including forced labour and physical and sexual violence, a new report has found.
Human rights group Amnesty International found that women recruited as domestic help are often made to work extremely long hours, with seven-day weeks and meagre or no pay.
Women surveyed by the group reported being slapped, pulled by the hair, poked in the eye and kicked down the stairs by their employers, the report said.
“Migrant domestic workers are victims of a discriminatory system that denies them basic protections and leaves them open to exploitation and abuse including forced labour and human trafficking,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s global issues director.
“We have spoken to women who have been terribly deceived, then found themselves trapped and at the mercy of abusive employers, banned from leaving the house. Some women said they were threatened with physical violence when they told their employers they wanted to leave.”
Amnesty estimates that there are around 84,000 women migrant domestic workers in Qatar. The majority of them hailing from South and South East Asian countries.
The human rights group has attributed such widespread exploitation to a lack of legal protection for domestic workers in the Gulf state.
Under Qatari law, there are no limits on working hours for domestic workers or a requirement to give them a day-off, the report said. The workers are also unable to lodge complaints with the authority.
“Women who find themselves in abusive households face utterly miserable conditions. They have few options – if they choose to simply to get out of the house, they will be branded ‘runaways’ and are likely to end up being detained and deported,” said Gaughran.
Qatar follows a restrictive sponsorship system, which prevents workers from leaving the country or their job without their employer’s permission.
Amnesty has urged authorities to remove provisions in the law that deny migrant workers their rights.
“International attention on the 2022 FIFA World Cup has thrown a spotlight on the plight of migrant construction workers in Qatar. However, the complete absence of protections for domestic workers’ labour rights, and the fact that they are isolated in employers’ homes, leaves them exposed to abuse to an even greater extent,” said Gaughran.
“Promises by the government to protect domestic workers’ labour rights have so far not amounted to anything. Qatar must stop dragging its feet over this and guarantee domestic workers legal protection for basic rights immediately.”
Gulf countries have been repeatedly criticised by international rights groups over their treatment of domestic workers.
Although solid labour laws protecting workers’ rights are yet to be formed in these countries, some GCC states are taking proactive steps to ensure worker welfare.
Saudi Arabia recently launched a multilingual hotline to register complaints from domestic workers and to inform them of their rights and duties. The Kingdom also introduced specific laws last year, mandating the employer to pay workers regularly and to give them a day off each week.