21 Jan 2020 Ferado

Qatar: End of Abusive Exit Permits for Most Migrant Workers But Domestic Workers Will Have to Notify Employers Before Leaving

(Beirut)—Qatar announced on January 16, 2020 that most migrant workers previously prevented from leaving the country without their employer’s permission, including domestic workers, will no longer need an exit permit, Human Rights Watch said today. While this is an important step forward, the larger kafala (visa sponsorship) system, which facilitates the abuse and exploitation of migrant workers, remains intact.
A September 2018 law abolished the exit permit requirement for most migrant workers. But it did not extend to people who are not covered under the labor law, including government employees and workers in the oil and gas sector, at sea and in territorial waters, in agriculture, in private offices, and domestic workers. A new ministerial decision extends the right to leave the country without prior permission to most of those excluded workers, except those in the military. However, employers can apply for exceptions for a few workers, and domestic workers are required to inform employers that they wish to leave at least 72 hours in advance.

“Qatar has taken an important step to eliminate a tool of control that employers sometimes used to exploit workers and keep them entrapped in abusive situations,” said Rothna Begum, a senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “However, the authorities should ensure that no worker should have to get permission from an employer to exercise their right to leave the country.”

Disappointingly, both Law No. 13 of 2018 and the new Ministerial Decision no. 95 of 2019 still maintain exit visa requirements for some employees. Employers can apply to the authorities to designate up to five percent of their foreign national staff to be required to seek prior consent due to the nature of their work. While this designation does not apply to domestic workers, they are the only workers required to give their employers advance notice.

The official Interior Ministry Twitter accounts in English and Arabic stated on January 16 that domestic workers who leave without advance notice may have to forfeit their paid return travel fare and their financial rights, which could mean a claim to any unpaid wages. They could also face a four-year ban on re-entering Qatar.

The Peninsula, a Qatari online newspaper, cited a senior ministry official saying the same thing. However, in response to inquiries by Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organizations, The Peninsula removed the quote and the official ministry Twitter account removed the tweets later that day.

A government spokesperson told Human Rights Watch by email on January 16 that:

With immediate effect, the measures announced today remove exit permits for all expatriates who are not currently subject to Qatar’s Labor Law—including domestic workers.

In order to protect the rights of both employers and domestic workers, domestic workers must notify employers at least 72 hours prior to their departure in order to protect their rights and ensure that they receive their financial benefits. However, any reports suggesting financial penalties for workers failing to notify their employer are patently false and misinformed.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that requiring domestic workers by law to inform their employer in advance that they plan to leave could lead domestic workers to believe they do in fact require their employer’s permission. This is especially problematic for domestic workers who are in abusive or exploitative situations, or who fear retaliation. It also could create further abuses in which employers could confine domestic workers to the house after receiving notice of their intent to leave or file trumped-up criminal charges against them to prevent their departure.

“Qatari authorities should make sure it is crystal clear that domestic workers will be able leave the country even if they have not informed their employer,” Begum said. “The government should remove this legal requirement altogether because it could create confusion for both employers and domestic workers and leave domestic workers exposed to abuse.”

Lifting the exit permit requirement addresses one key element of the kafala (sponsorship) system, which ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers, and has enabled abuse and exploitation of workers. Other elements remain, however, including requiring workers to obtain employer permission to leave or change a job. Those who leave before the end of a contract without permission can also be charged with “absconding” and are at risk of arrest and deportation. Other reforms to the kafala system are expected to be rolled out later in January.

Qatar, which is employing thousands of migrant workers to build infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, has come under increased scrutiny for its treatment of foreign workers since winning the bid to host the tournament. In November, Qatar entered the third and last year of its technical cooperation program with the International Labour Organization (ILO), aimed at extensively reforming migrant workers’ conditions.

However, the reforms introduced over the past three years, while positive, have not gone far enough, and implementation has been uneven, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch continues to document abuse and exploitation of migrant workers facilitated by the kafala system.

The kafala system exists across the Middle East region in various forms. Following Qatar’s announcement, Saudi Arabia remains the only country to require exit permits for all its migrant workers. In other Middle Eastern countries, however, a migrant worker can still be blocked from leaving the country if a sponsor files a complaint with immigration authorities or if the employer has not cancelled the employee’s residency visa.

International human rights law provides that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Any restrictions can only be individual, for a legitimate reason, and proportionate—as, for instance, during a criminal investigation.

“With Qatar‘s exit-permit system almost at an end, Saudi Arabia will become the only state in the region to still impose this abusive requirement on its migrant workers,” Begum said. “Qatar, Saudi Arabia and all other Gulf countries should abolish the kafala system and ensure that migrant workers’ visas are not tied to their employers.”

21 Jan 2020 Ferado

Indonesia unions hold protests over planned labor reform

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Several thousand Indonesian workers held a rally on Monday outside parliament to protest against planned changes to labor laws as part of government reforms aimed at creating jobs and boosting investment in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

The so-called “omnibus” bills the government wants parliament to pass aim to replace dozens of overlapping laws seen as obstacles to investment, and to streamline businesses permits and relax labor laws.

With economic growth having been stuck at about 5% for several years, President Joko Widodo has said the new legislation is vital and wants parliament to pass a job creation bill within 100 days of submission.

“This (the law) will be bad for our kids,” said Suwondo, a 41-year-old pharmaceutical worker who attended the peaceful rally alongside other chanting workers.

Current labor laws, passed in 2003, include some of the most generous severance pay rules in the world. Investors have cited them as a hindrance in hiring staff.

The government has pledged to consult unions, and full details of the draft bill have not yet been released though unions have already slammed it as pro-business.

Ellena Ekarahendy, head of the media and creative workers’ union, said ahead of the protests that the changes could increase the risk of mass firings.

Susiwijono Moegiarso, an official at the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs, said on Friday a new social safety net would be put in place for fired workers so they are paid for six months, alongside existing compensation rules.

According to material on the bill released on Friday, the government will require minimum wages to take into account economic conditions of different regions.

The bill will also simplify permit processes covering 15 sectors including manufacturing, agriculture, energy and mining, as well as environmental permits and construction, the material showed.

The government will remove a “negative investment list” that restricts foreign ownership in some areas, though it will continue to set limits in certain industries, an official said.

David Sumual, chief economist at Indonesia’s Bank Central Asia, said passing the omnibus law was “a litmus test” for President Widodo, who is supported by parties controlling about 75 percent of the seats in parliament.

Helmi Arman, an analyst at Citi, said in a note that to ensure a boost to lagging foreign direct investment “there must also be deregulation to ease non-tariff measures such as import restrictions and local-content requirements.”

Muhammad Rusdi of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers’ Union (KSPI) warned at the weekend that he would not rule out the possibility of workers going on strike over the bill.

But Sufmi Dasco Ahmad, deputy speaker of parliament, pledged full consultation once the bill was submitted.

“The bill belongs to workers, business people, and all of us,” he told reporters

21 Jan 2020 Ferado

Mid-day meal workers seek regular jobs, hike in salary

INDIA: Demanding regularisation of jobs and a hike in salary, members of the Mid-Day Meal Workers’ Union staged a protest here on Sunday. They also took out a protest march, which started from the Mini-Secretariat. They raised slogans in front of Finance Minister Manpreet Badal’s office.

Police men restrain protesters outside the Finance Minister’s office in Bathinda on Sunday. Vijay Kumar
Notably, all district-level units of the union staged protests in their respective districts on Sunday. Due to the protest march on the Bathinda-Goniana Road, commuters were harried a lot.

The police had installed barricades to thwart the attempt of protesters to gherao the office of Manpreet. Police men stopped the protesters outside the Finance Minister’s office.

Addressing the protesters Lakhwinder Kaur, state president of the union, said, “We prepare meal for children no matter it is the rainy season, winters or summers. But, we get only Rs1,700 per month which is quite less considering the rising inflation. We have been demanding regularisation of our services for a long time, but the state government has been ignoring the same. The Education Secretary had talked an about increase in allowances. The file in this regard is stuck in the Finance Department at present.”The union members said mid-day meal workers in Tamil Nadu had been getting Rs5,500 to Rs7,500 on a monthly basis. They also get benefits on a par with regular employees, but the state government has meted out step-motherly treatment to them, the protesters added.

“The government must release the pending salary of mid-day meal workers in the state. Besides, the facility of adequate number of leave on an annual basis and insurance must be given to every worker,” she added.

21 Jan 2020 Ferado

Centre sabotaging labour laws: AITUC

INDIA: All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) State president J. Udayabhanu has accused the Government of sabotaging all labour laws.

Inaugurating the AITUC district camp here on Sunday, he said all labour laws were the result of fierce struggles by workers. While the previous Congress Government changed labour laws in favour of capitalists, the Modi Government, which came to power with a campaign against it, has continued the practice, he alleged.

AITUC State vice president Thavam Balakrishnan, district general secretary C.P. Santosh Kumar and former district secretary C. Raveendran addressed the gathering

21 Jan 2020 Ferado

AUSTRALIA: People no longer believe working hard will lead to a better life, survey shows

now in its 20th year – has found many people no longer believe working hard will give them a better life.

Despite strong economic performance, a majority of respondents in every developed market do not believe they will be better off in five years’ time.

This means that economic growth no longer appears to drive trust, at least in developed markets – upending the conventional wisdom.

“We are living in a trust paradox,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman.

“Since we began measuring trust 20 years ago, economic growth has fostered rising trust. This continues in Asia and the Middle East but not in developed markets, where national income inequality is now the more important factor.