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Qatar signs new agreement with ITF on transport worker rights

news Press Release 03 Mar 2022

The Ministry of Labour of Qatar today signed a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the ITF and, with worker-management committees, it takes another leap forward in rights for transport workers.

The MoU between Qatar and the ITF builds on a previous agreement as part of an International Labour Organisation (ILO) technical project. It outlines cooperation on transport worker rights over the next two years.

“As worker rights and implementation improve, Qatar is already seeing the economic and social benefits of having a healthy, productive workforce,” said ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton who is in Qatar to sign the agreement. “There is still a way to go, but with this MoU, we are taking an important first step towards freedom of association in Qatar.”

The MoU builds on five years of talks between the ITF and Qatar. In 2018, Qatar brought in wholesale changes to Qatari employment law, seeing migrant workers being able to change jobs without first having to obtain a no objection certificate form their employer. Coupled with the removal of exit permit requirements, these reforms effectively dismantled the kafala sponsorship system. Further reforms also saw the establishment of the region’s first non-discriminatory minimum wage, the setting-up of labour disputes committees and a workers’ support and insurance fund. 

Giving workers a voice

This new agreement progresses worker rights even further, starting the process of giving thousands of migrant transport workers in Qatar a collective voice. Under recent labour law reforms, companies with more than 30 workers can form a “joint committee”, with equal numbers of workers and management, to discuss key workplace issues. Workers can choose representatives for a joint committee through formal elections.

“This is the first time we have seen anything close to industrial democracy for migrant workers in Qatar,” said Cotton.

The ITF has been working with transport companies to help establish these committees and engage workers in the process. With the MoU, both parties commit to taking every opportunity to set up joint committees in local and multinational companies.

“Joint committees are a major step because workers will be able to raise critical workplace issues and concerns directly with management and represent workers’ views in critical decisions around safety and conditions of employment,” said Cotton. 

Dialogue works

“In just a few years we’ve been directly involved in helping Qatar move from a nation where migrant workers had few rights to one where they have numerous protections,” said Paddy Crumlin, President of the ITF.  “There are still human rights question marks across the region but simply by talking, we’re changing minds. Our step-by-step approach is working. We’ve made great progress in Qatar, and we hope to expand our engagement with other governments in the region.”

The MoU covers all transport sectors and already the ITF is helping with the technical aspects of worker rights. For example, it has provided expertise in training aviation inspectors on flight time limits and expects to offer similar assistance in the maritime, rail and urban transport sectors.

The MoU outlines areas of cooperation across the different transport sectors, specifically:

  • Wage protection
  • Labour inspection policy and occupational safety and health
  • Recruitment and working conditions
  • Combating human trafficking
  • Promoting a voice for workers and giving them access to justice

“Joint committees with democratically elected worker representatives set Qatar on the path to achieving full trade union rights in a gradual manner,” said Cotton. “With that aim in mind, we will continue to hold discussions with the Ministry of Labour to build on this progress.”

Government and company representatives attending the signing also welcomed the agreement:

Mr. Mohammed al-Obaidly, Undersecretary of the Qatar Ministry of Labour said: “Today we celebrate the signing of the MoU between the Ministry of Labour and the ITF, which is the culmination of these efforts and reflects the commitment to continue developing the partnership and fruitful cooperation between the two parties in order to promote decent work in this vital sector, especially in civil aviation, internal transport and maritime transport.”

Mr. Max Tuñón, Head of the ILO Office in Doha said: “Today’s event reflects the results of the deepening relationship between the State of Qatar and the ITF, and more broadly the international trade union movement. The ILO is proud to be working together with these partners to advance the labour reforms in Qatar. Implementing such an ambitious reform agenda requires building and strengthening partnerships with key actors, and that’s why the MoU signed today between the Ministry of Labour and ITF, is not only significant, but also timely.”

Dutch Ambassador H.E Marjan Kamstra said: “I hope this MoU constitutes another step towards full implementation of Qatar’s labour reform agenda. Improving labour rights in Qatar is a priority for our embassy. To this end we work closely with the Ministry of Labour, the ILO and workers communities to strengthen workers’ voices through training elected Joint Committee worker representatives. The establishment of Joint Committees is an important step for the transport sector in the State of Qatar and we look forward to cooperating with ITF on this.”

Mr. Fahad Saad Al Qahtani, Mowasalat (Karwa) CEO said: “The cooperation with our Joint Committee has proven to be very valuable for Mowasalat’s work environment as well as our business decisions. The committee is a platform for our employees to weigh in on company decisions, but also a platform for new ideas on business improvement, which has a positive impact on our customer satisfaction levels. It also reinforces our company’s promise on transparency and accountability towards our staff and towards the role we play for the Qatar National Vision 2030. We are truly proud that this is a success story for all of us.”

Mr. Samer Jalal, AAB Qatar, Director of HR and Admin said: “The Joint Committee is an effective platform to improve two-way dialogue between employees and management, which directly reflects positively on business outcomes. We will continue to support it.”

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