Nepali migrant labourers in Qatar are paying a high price: Abusive work environments, wage thefts and chronic illnesses

Qatar's emir visited Nepal, urging Human Rights Watch to address labor conditions and worker rights issues faced by 400,000 Nepali migrant workers, including wage theft, contract violations, and chronic illnesses.

Nepali migrant labourers in Qatar are paying a high price: Abusive work environments, wage thefts and chronic illnesses
Photo Source: Construction work done in extreme heat. by IslandHopper X, via Pexels, 2023/ January 12th

16-05-2024

Pauliina Majasaari

East Asia Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.

 

The emir of Qatar made his first visit ever to Nepal on April 23rd, 2024.[1] Human Rights Watch had called on Qatar and Nepal to address the improvement of Nepali migrant workers’ labour conditions and their protection in Qatar.[2] Concerns about working conditions in extreme heat, inadequate living conditions and serious abuse of the workers’ rights have risen to the surface within the past few years.[3]

 

Qatar is one of the global hubs for global labour migration, and of estimate of 400,000 Nepali workers are based in Qatar, working mostly in construction and manual labour.[4] They make up 12.5 percent of Qatar’s entire population and the remittances of Nepali migrant workers total to about one third of Nepal’s GDP.[5] According to Human Rights Watch, amongst the abuses faced by migrant workers, wage theft, labour contract violations and chronic illnesses linked to unsafe working conditions are present.[6] Commonly Nepali migrant workers rely on recruitment agencies or labour brokers to connect them to overseas employers, however these actors charge excessive and illegal recruitment fees which forces the workers to take high-interest loans or borrow money.[7] Leading to situations of labour bondage, where the migrant workers are forced to either suffer from abusive work environment and living conditions or return home with a severe financial debt.[8] Additionally, within arrival the employers commonly seise the migrants’ passports and conduct a contract substitution, where the terms of the contract are severely changed including the working hours and wage.[9]Some migrants have even been deported due to demanding the originally agreed wages and benefits.[10] Furthermore, migrant workers are easily exposed to the extreme heat in Qatar, and without proper worker protection this serious health hazard has taken a devastating toll, with thousands of unexplained deaths of young healthy Nepalese migrants, with no explanations or compensation provided for the families.[11] In addition, many return home with a chronic diseases such as chronic kidney failure, fortunately Nepal provides free dialysis services for the affected.[12] A further burden on the rights of the migrants workers, is the presence of the kafala system, which allows for the abuses to take place.[13] Nepal has tried to combat the abuses taking place through governmental regulations to create safer labour migration environment, however the implementation has been flawed.[14]

 

According to article 1 of the Forced Labour Convention, the state parties are under an obligation to suppress the use forced labour in its all forms as soon as possible.[15] Moreover, as set by the International Labour Organisation, debt bondage, excessive wage deductions violating previously made agreements, retention of passports and limiting the freedom of movement fall under forced labour.[16] Moreover the right to life is set out under article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the prohibition and the right to be free from slavery is set under Article 4.[17]As reiterated under the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, debt bondage is a form of slavery.[18]Even though the UDHR is not a legally binding document, it holds customary law status for most of its provisions, and thereby binds states to the rights and obligations set within.

 

Therefore, Qatar is not abiding by its obligations deriving from international- and customary law, as it is subjecting the Nepalese migrant workers to forced labour. As mentioned before, they are subjected to situations of debt bondage, seising of passports, which also limits their freedom of movement and the presence of excessive wage deductions, which are all indicators of the presence of forced labour. Similarly, the migrant workers in Qatar are subjected to forms of slavery, such as debt bondage and the kafala system, which is in contradiction with the customary law embedded under UDHR. Lastly, Qatar is not respecting the migrant workers’ right to life as many young and healthy Nepalese men have died during their labour migration in Qatar and matters such as hazardous working conditions within high temperatures factors into.

 

Respectively, Qatar is urged by international human rights organisations such as the Human Rights Watch to introduce comprehensive labour reforms and ensure the effective implementation of such, and especially addressing and bringing an end to the kafala system.[19] Additionally, Qatar and Nepal are asked to sign labour agreements which address the labour abuses taking place.[20] Such actions are of crucial importance to ensure the Nepali migrant workers are not stripped of their labour rights and can pursue employment in a just environment.

 

[1] ‘Qatari emir in Nepal, expected to tackle migrant conditions and Nepali student held hostage by Hamas’ (Independent, 23 April 2024) <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/bangladesh-ap-hamas-nepal-qatari-b2533300.html> accessed 15 May 2024.

[2] ‘Qatar, Nepal, Bangladesh: Emir’s Visit Should Prioritize Migrant Workers Protections’ (Human Rights Watch, 21 April 2024) <https://www.hrw.org/news/2024/04/21/qatar-nepal-bangladesh-emirs-visits-should-prioritize-migrant-worker-protections> accessed 15 April 2024.

[3] ‘Qatari emir in Nepal, expected to tackle migrant conditions and Nepali student held hostage by Hamas’ (n 1).

[4] ibid.

[5] ‘Nepal-Qatar Migration Corridor’ (Humanity United) <https://humanityunited.org/program-track/nepal-qatar-migration-corridor/> accessed 16 May 2024.

[6] ‘Qatar, Nepal, Bangladesh: Emir’s Visit Should Prioritize Migrant Workers Protections’ (n 2).

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] ibid.

[11] ibid.

[12] ibid.

[13] ibid.

[14] ‘Survey analysis: Monitoring recruitment of Nepalese migrant workers to Qatar’ (ITUC, December 2023), 5.

[15] Forced Labour Convention No 29 (adopted 28 June 1930, entered into force 1 May 1932) 39 UNTS 55, article 1.

[16] ‘Forced Labour’ (Gtz, June 2008).

[17] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR), article 3 and 4.

[18] Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices similar to Slavery (adopted 7 September 1965, entered into force 30 April 1957) 266 UNTS 3 (Supplementary Convention on Abolition of Slavery), article 1 (a).

[19] ‘Qatar, Nepal, Bangladesh: Emir’s Visit Should Prioritize Migrant Workers Protections’ (n 2).

[20] ibid.

 

Sources and further readings:

 

‘Forced Labour’ (Gtz, June 2008).

 

Forced Labour Convention No 29 (adopted 28 June 1930, entered into force 1 May 1932) 39 UNTS 55.

 

‘Nepal-Qatar Migration Corridor’ Humanity United <https://humanityunited.org/program-track/nepal-qatar-migration-corridor/> accessed 16 May 2024.

 

‘Qatari emir in Nepal, expected to tackle migrant conditions and Nepali student held hostage by Hamas’ Independent (23 April 2024) <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/bangladesh-ap-hamas-nepal-qatari-b2533300.html> accessed 15 May 2024.

 

‘Qatar, Nepal, Bangladesh: Emir’s Visit Should Prioritize Migrant Workers Protections’ Human Rights Watch (21 April 2024) <https://www.hrw.org/news/2024/04/21/qatar-nepal-bangladesh-emirs-visits-should-prioritize-migrant-worker-protections> accessed 15 April 2024.

 

Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices similar to Slavery (adopted 7 September 1965, entered into force 30 April 1957) 266 UNTS 3 (Supplementary Convention on Abolition of Slavery).

 

Survey analysis: Monitoring recruitment of Nepalese migrant workers to Qatar’ ITUC (December 2023).

 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR).