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article imageUN clears Qatar in migrant worker abuse probe

By AFP     Nov 8, 2017 in World

The UN's labour agency on Wednesday closed a probe into the alleged mistreatment of foreign workers in World Cup 2022 host Qatar, praising a reform plan agreed by the emirate.

Activists and leading international labour unions had accused Qatar of subjecting migrant workers to slave-like conditions on jobs that included infrastructure projects for FIFA's top tournament.

The International Labour Organization had opened in 2014 an inquiry into whether Qatar had violated its obligations under conventions aimed at preventing forced labour and failed to set up adequate legal protections for foreign workers.

Qatar has since agreed to changes that include the introduction of a minimum wage, contracts being lodged with the government so they cannot be changed on arrival in Qatar, and employers no longer being able to stop staff from leaving the country.

"The transformation of this complaint into a real commitment by the government of Qatar to make positive change on the ground for all workers is a very encouraging development," Luc Cortebeeck, chairman of the ILO governing body, said in a statement.

Qatar called the decision "an acknowledgement of the important steps our government has taken to develop a modern labour system" and said it was "grateful" to the migrant workers building the country's infrastructure.

"The government will continue improving their living and working conditions in the years ahead, as Qatar pursues our goal of setting the highest standard for worker's rights and human rights in the region."

The International Trade Union Confederation, which co-authored the 2014 complaint and accused Qatar earlier this year of making "false and misleading claims" to the ILO, also backed Wednesday's decision.

"Qatar has set a new standard for the Gulf states, and this must be followed by Saudi Arabia and the (United Arab Emirates) where millions of migrant workers are trapped in modern slavery," IUTC general secretary Sharan Burrow said in a statement.

In February 2015, Qatar introduced a Wage Protection System designed to ensure workers receive their salaries electronically, either fortnightly or monthly.

And in December it announced the end of its much-criticised "kafala" system, under which all foreign workers needed a local sponsor in order to work, maintain residency, switch jobs or leave the country.

The ILO's stamp of approval marks a victory for the emirate as it is under pressure on multiple fronts, in particular the bitter diplomatic showdown with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbours.

Swiss prosecutors are also conducting a wide-ranging investigation into whether Qatari officials bought votes to secure the 2022 World Cup.

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