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Last week workers from India, Nepal and the Philippines working in Qatar formed new support networks to protect their rights. The organizations will act within the laws of Qatar and will provide health and safety trainings, know your rights-meetings as well as community and support for migrant workers in the country.
"We are more than one million migrant workers in this country and we deserve to be treated with respect. There are still employers who treat us as their property. Life here can be hard and we need to support each other," said one of the participants at a meeting organized by the support network for Filipino migrant workers last week.
More than 200 workers took their weekly day off to attend the meetings along with trade union leaders from a number of countries. The ambassadors of Philippines and India to Qatar were also there to witness the historic moment.
Among the workers were both low wage labourers earning no more than 500-700 riyals (137-172 USD) a month, to highly skilled engineers and craftsmen. But despite the difference of wage and skill levels, workers had similar experience of violations such as non-payment of wages, contract substitution, passport confiscation, deplorable living conditions and refusal of employers to let them change jobs or leave the country.
The abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar has been well documented by international media and various organizations. But during the meetings it became clear that when workers try to claim their rights or report abuse, they have nowhere to turn with their complaints.
Legal consultants workers were able to get help with their cases and ask questions about their rights. Among the 200 attendants of the seminars, the majority had experienced delay in wages and a large number of workers, particularly from Nepal, had experienced contract substitution. Further, most workers had their passports forcefully taken by their employers, although this is an illegal practice in Qatar.
“The majority of migrant workers we met continue to face enormous challenges and violations of their rights. But instead of being afraid they are empowering themselves to know more about their rights and support each other. The BWI is committed to support these workers and we will push the Qatari government, FIFA, and construction companies to ensure their rights,” said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the BWI.