In Qatar, migrant workers represent about 90 per cent of its resident population, and Nepalis represent a significant number of its migrant workforce. The country has been facing severe global criticism over the treatment of its migrant workforce, where
Last year, in an attempt to revamp its image especially with FIFA World Cup 2022 is just around the corner, Doha committed to reviewing its existing labour agreement with Nepal signed in 2005.
As part of the negotiations between two countries, Qatar sent its delegates to Nepal in November 2018 to discuss the much-needed revisions and proposed implementation. Likewise, a Nepali delegation also visited Qatar to hold talks on a revised bilateral agreement. Many claims that this bilateral agreement would have prevented Nepali workers from exorbitant fees imposed by the Qataris and also protect them against various other forms of exploitation including nightmarish working conditions, unpaid and delayed wages, and threats of reduced wages, and poor accommodation.
As per a report published in the Telegraph, “the majority of Nepali expatriates, borrowed an enormous amount of money to secure his new job overseas – a 200,000 Nepali Rupee (£1,350) loan at 18 per cent interest from a micro-finance company, equating to more than half the average annual wage in Nepal.
As per an investigation conducted by the Nepalese authorities to unveil the employment companies corruption scandal in Nepal, the Qatari ambassador to Nepal, Yousuf Bin Mohamed Ahmed Al Hail, failed to keep his word. He committed to paying 1400 Qatari Riyal to each employee of Nepal’s two employment companies but paid only 400 Riyals.
Also, a Qatari security company made a deal with a Nepalese employment company to recruit 600 Nepalese workers at a salary of $1500 each. Although Qatar claims that it does not charge any fees on recruiting workers, but its security company asked each applicant to pay $9000. It implies that for 600 employees the company collected over $5 million, a portion of which also went to the Qatari ambassador.
According to an official with the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, as part of the review process, Qatar proposed ‘zero cost’ modality for hiring Nepali workers. However, the review of labour agreement did not reach any significant stage as Nepal’s government did not hear back from the Qatari government. A successful review could have saved Nepali workers from paying an exorbitant amount of money to secure jobs in Qatar.
“During the discussions, the Qatari officials raised some concerns. Nepal government was expected to answer them back, which was done immediately,” said the official, who had key information over the matter but preferred to stay anonymous, told Kathmandu Post. “The Ministry had sent their response, but since then, we never heard back from them.”
As per the sources, Qatar got back but only with a Qatar Visa Centre in Nepal. Nepal’s Labour Ministry raised concern the working and living conditions of its workforce. However, without satisfying the Labour Ministry and attending to its concerns, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave a go head allowing the centre to open in Kathmandu.
“The Labour Ministry should have had its say in the establishment of any such centre in Nepal,” said the official. “Now it seems, they were more concerned about opening their centre in Nepal.”
Qatar, which has always relied on poorer South Asian nations to fill unskilled jobs, needed more labour force to host the Football World Cup and show off the world its nine uniquely designed stadiums. Construction begins and so does the exploitation. There surfaced complaints like, Nepalis were forbidden from leaving the country or changing jobs without the permission of their employers, some even endured detention, some reported physical abuse and alleged being forced to work in dangerous conditions, often in extreme heat with little water.
To save its face in the international arena, Qatar came up with ‘zero-cost’ jobs, proposal to provide workers with easier access to justice, free legal services and the option to change jobs in the country. The proposed review also shielded workers from forced labour, human trafficking and other forms of discrimination and exploitation at the workplace.
Despite all talks and assurances nothing much has changed on the ground. Under Nepali law, a migrant travelling to work in Qatar should be provided with a free visa and travel, yet in most cases, visa fee and extra is charged to gain job security. Besides, Qatar committed to raising the workers’ wages, but the reality remains unchanged. One of the richest countries in the world seems to be filling its exchequer by pinching money off poor workers.
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