Pope Francis Defines Slave Labor
I have had wonderful women who have worked for me; they were from the Philippines, from Sri Lanka, from India. They worked hard and they didn’t spend their money. They sent their money home to help support mothers, fathers, siblings, children. They had some real horror stories to tell about how they had been treated in prior employment – employers with jealous wives, touchy-feelie employers and their sons, people who seemed to assume that because they were working under their sponsorship, they owned their lives. In Qatar and in Kuwait, Labor law provides for a mandatory day off – except for house-workers. Some work from crack of dawn getting the children ready for school until the last thobe is ironed, late late in the night.
I did a little research. Here is what 38 Euros per month – slave wages – is worth:
$50.13 US Dollars (Minimum wage $7.25/hour + social security)
Qatari Rial 182.52 (Qatar has not set a minimum wage)
Kuwaiti Dinar 14.24 (Minimum wage = 60 KD per month)
Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned as “slave labour” the work conditions of victims of a factory collapse in Bangladesh in which more than 400 people have been found dead, Vatican radio reported.
“A headline that really struck me on the day of the tragedy in Bangladesh was ‘Living on 38 euros a month’. That is what the people who died were being paid. This is called slave labour,” the pope was quoted as saying at a private mass.
“Today in the world this slavery is being committed against something beautiful that God has given us — the capacity to create, to work, to have dignity. How many brothers and sisters find themselves in this situation!” he said.
“Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God!” he was quoted as saying.
“There are many people who want to work but cannot. When a society is organised in a way that not everyone is given the chance to work, that society is not just,” he said.
Copyright (2013) AFP. All rights reserved.
If you have the time for some fascinating reading, it’s all available on the internet at the US State Departments Human Rights website; you can access by clicking here. Read – or skip – the overview, then go to the second column where you can see what is happening in every individual country. I’ve printed out labor excerpts below, but there are also fascinating observations on leadership, government, human rights and human trafficking.
QATAR: Labor Conditions according to
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law does not adequately protect the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, a situation that made the exercise of these rights difficult. The law provides workers in private sector enterprises that have 100 citizen workers who are18 and older a limited right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. For those few workers covered by the law protecting the right to collective bargaining, the government circumscribed the right to bargain collectively through its control over the rules and procedures of the bargaining and agreement processes. The labor code allows for only one trade union, the General Union of Workers of Qatar (General Union), which was composed of general committees for workers in various trades or industries. Trade or industry committees were composed of worker committees at the individual firm level.
Noncitizens are not eligible to join worker committees or the national union, effectively banning foreign workers from organizing, striking, or bargaining collectively. The law explicitly prohibits public sector workers or the military from organizing.
Civil servants and domestic workers do not have the right to strike; the law also prohibits strikes at public utilities and health or security service facilities, which include the gas, petroleum, and transportation sectors. Although the law recognizes the right to strike for some workers, restrictive conditions made the likelihood of a legal strike extremely remote. The law requires approval for a strike by three-fourths of a company’s workers committee. The Complaint Department of the Ministry of Labor in coordination with the Ministry of Interior must rule on all industrial disputes before workers can call a strike.
In organizations with more than 30 workers, the law permits the establishment of “joint committees” with an equal number of worker and management representatives to deal with a limited number of workplace issues. Foreign workers may be members of joint labor-management committees. The law offers a means to file collective disputes. If not settled internally between the employees and employer, the Ministry of Labor can be brought in to mediate a solution to such disputes.
The law requires Ministry of Labor approval for worker organizations to affiliate with groups outside the country. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not respected in practice. The General Union was not a functioning entity. Employees could not freely practice collective bargaining, and there were no workers under collective bargaining contracts. While rare, when labor unrest occurred, mostly involving the country’s overwhelmingly foreign workforce, the government responded by dispatching large numbers of police to the work sites or labor camps involved; the strikes generally ended peacefully after these shows of force. In most cases the government summarily deported the workers’ leaders and organizers. For example, on January 24, 127 Nepali workers were detained after they went on strike to protest low pay; some were later deported.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law.
The government made efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor during the year. The government arrested and prosecuted individuals for labor law violations; two cases each of forced labor and bonded labor were before courts at year’s end. In addition the government closed 15 recruitment firms during the year. The QFCHT and the NHRC conducted several training sessions during the year for migrant laborers to educate them on their rights in the country. The NHRC printed and distributed pamphlets that included pertinent articles of the labor and sponsorship laws in multiple languages to better educate migrant workers on their rights. In addition the Ministry of Labor opened a free legal clinic for low-income migrant workers in March.
There were continuing indications of forced labor, especially in the construction and domestic labor sectors, which disproportionately affected migrant workers. Exorbitant recruitment fees incurred abroad entrapped many workers in long-term debt, making them more vulnerable to being exploited for forced labor. Some foreign workers who voluntarily entered the country to work had their passports and pay withheld, were refused exit permits, and worked under conditions to which they had not agreed. In a critical June report, Human Rights Watch highlighted a number of these problems, including poor living conditions, employers who routinely confiscated worker passports, and a sponsorship system that gave employers inordinate control of workers.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and stipulates that minors between the ages of 16 and 18 can work with parental or guardian permission. Minors may not work more than six hours a day or more than 36 hours a week. Employers must provide the Labor Department with the names and occupations of their minor employees and obtain permission from the Ministry of Education to hire a minor. The Labor Department may prohibit the employment of minors in jobs judged dangerous to their health, safety, or morals. The government generally enforced relevant laws effectively, and child labor rarely occurred in practice.
d. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no minimum wage. The law requires equal pay for equal work in the private sector. The labor law prescribes a 48-hour workweek with a 24-hour rest period and paid annual leave days. Employees who work more than 48 hours per week or 36 hours per week during the holy month of Ramadan are entitled to an overtime pay supplement of at least a 25 percent. The law requires premium pay for overtime and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The government set occupational health and safety standards. The labor law and provisions for acceptable conditions of work do not apply to workers in the public sector, agriculture, or to domestic servants.
Responsibility for laws related to acceptable conditions of work fell primarily to the Ministry of Labor as well as the Ministry of Energy and Industry and the Ministry of Health. The government did not effectively enforce standards in all sectors; working conditions for citizens were generally adequate, as government agencies and the major private sector companies employing them generally followed relevant laws. Enforcement problems were in part due to insufficient training and lack of personnel. There were approximately 150 inspectors in the Ministry of Labor. Fear of penalties such as blacklisting, which allows the Ministry of Labor to suspend specific operations, appeared to have had some effect as a deterrent to some labor law violations.
The government took action to prevent violations and improve working conditions during the year. According to foreign diplomats and some individual migrant workers, the Ministry of Labor’s Department of Labor Affairs was perceived to be objective within its mandate when dealing with the nonpayment of wages, health and safety violations, and other labor law violations. The department claimed it resolved 80 percent of the 6,000 complaints filed by workers during the year. The ministry referred 292 cases to the labor courts for judgment. During the first half of the year, the labor courts heard 8,101 cases, of which 813 received final verdicts, 920 received preliminary verdicts, 5,236 were still under review, 1,111 were cancelled, and 21 were linked to existing cases. The courts ordered that companies provide both financial compensation and airline tickets to their country of origin for plaintiffs in 49 cases, financial compensation only in six cases, and airline tickets only in five cases. A limited number of labor complaints were referred to the criminal courts, but statistics were not publicly available.
The Labor Inspection Department conducted monthly and random inspections of labor camps; when it found them below minimum standards, the operators received a warning, and authorities ordered them to remedy the violations within one month. If they did not remedy the violations, the Ministry of Labor blacklisted the company and on occasion referred the matter to the public prosecutor for action. Some cases went to trial. During the year inspectors conducted 46,624 observations of work and labor housing sites. Inspectors found 90 percent of companies were compliant with the administrative aspects of the law, such as timely payment of salaries and work regulations, while 70 percent were found to be compliant with safety standards. The Ministry of Labor issued 7,337 warning notices, 5,245 for health and safety reasons and 2,092 for administrative reasons. There were 377 companies that were issued reports of violations, 231for health and safety reasons and 146 for administrative reasons. Violators faced penalties of up to 6,000 riyal ($1,648) and 30 days’ imprisonment in the most serious cases, but labor observers reported that most safety and health violations were handled through administrative fines or blacklisting. The Ministry of Labor maintained an office in Doha’s industrial area, where most unskilled laborers resided, to receive complaints about worker safety or nonpayment of wages.
Violations of wage, overtime, and safety and health standards were relatively common, especially in sectors employing foreign workers, in which working conditions were often poor. Employers often ignored working hour restrictions and other laws with respect to domestic workers and unskilled laborers, the majority of whom were foreigners. A November survey by Qatar University’s Social and Economic Survey Research Institute found that 90 percent of unskilled laborers worked on average six days per week and 9.3 hours per day. Many unskilled foreign laborers were housed in cramped, dirty, and hazardous conditions, often without running water, electricity, or adequate food. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has repeatedly reported abusive conditions, including unexplained and work-related deaths, for migrant workers, especially in the construction sector. After an ITUC investigation of working conditions for Nepali workers, the organization alleged that work-related deaths due to problems such as heat exhaustion were wrongly attributed to heart attacks or natural causes.
Domestic workers, who are not protected by the labor law, often faced unacceptable working conditions. Many such workers frequently worked seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day with few or no holidays, no overtime pay, and no effective means to redress grievances.
According to the ITUC and other organizations, foreign workers faced legal obstacles and lengthy legal processes that prevented them from seeking redress for violations and exploitative conditions. The sponsorship law was widely considered the root of these violations. Under the country’s sponsorship system, most employees cannot leave the country without permission and are prevented from switching jobs without a “no objection letter” from their employer. Employees leaving the country without a no objection letter are barred from reemployment in the country for two years.
Kuwait Labor Practices According to
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law protects the right of workers to form and join trade unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, with significant restrictions. The law does not apply to public-sector employees, domestic workers, or maritime employees. Discrete labor laws set work conditions in the public and private sectors, with the oil industry treated separately. The law permits limited trade union pluralism at the local level, but there was only one government-authorized federation, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation (KTUF). The law also stipulates any new union must include at least 100 workers, and that at least 15 of the total must be Kuwaiti citizens.
The law provides workers a limited right to collective bargaining, excepting domestic servants, maritime workers, and civil servants. There is no minimum number of workers needed to conclude such agreements.
Public-sector workers do not have the right to strike. Private-sector workers have the right to strike, although cumbersome provisions calling for compulsory negotiation and arbitration in the case of disputes limit that right. Legal strikes require permission from the Ministry of Interior, which was rarely granted. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers or prevent the government from interfering in union activities, including the right to strike.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference with union functions, and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
However, the law empowers the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for threatening “public order and morals,” although a union can appeal such a court decision. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor can request the Court of First Instance to dissolve a union. Additionally, the emir may dissolve a union by decree.
Foreign workers, who constitute approximately 85 percent of the workforce, may join unions only as nonvoting members after five years of work in the particular sector the union represents, provided they obtain a certificate of good conduct and moral standing from the government. They cannot run for seats or vote in board elections. Both the International Labor Organization and the International Trade Union Confederation criticized the citizenship requirement for discouraging unions in sectors that employ few citizens, including much of private-sector employment, such as construction.
The government enforced applicable laws, and procedures were generally not subject to lengthy delay or appeals.
Although the law restricts freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, the government did not always enforce these limits. For example, according to KTUF, the government did not consistently enforce the requirement that foreign workers have at least five years working in Kuwait in a specific sector prior to joining a union.
The government also treated worker actions by citizens and noncitizens differently. While citizens and public-sector union leaders and workers faced no government repercussions for their roles in union or strike activities, companies directly threatened noncitizen workers calling for strikes with termination and deportation.
The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations were generally not independent of the government, and the government interfered in union activities. The government essentially treated licensed unions as parastatal organizations, providing as much as 90 percent of their budgets and inspecting financial records; if a union ceases to exist, the government confiscates its assets.
While the National Trade Union Federation petitioned the government for official recognition during the year, it did not receive a license by year’s end.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor “except in cases specified by law for national emergency and with just remuneration,” but the government did not effectively enforce the law.
Forced labor and conditions indicative of forced labor occurred in practice, especially among migrant workers. Such practices were usually a result of employer abuse of the sponsorship system for noncitizen workers. Employers frequently and illegally withheld salaries from domestic workers and minimum-wage laborers.
Domestic servitude was the most common type of forced labor, principally involving foreign domestic workers employed under the sponsorship system, but forced labor in the construction and sanitation sectors also existed. Forced labor conditions for migrant workers included nonpayment of wages, long working hours, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as withholding passports or confinement to the workplace. There were numerous media reports throughout the year of domestic workers being abused by their sponsors or sustaining significant injuries while trying to escape from their sponsors; some reports alleged abuse resulted in workers’ deaths. Female domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Police and courts were reluctant to prosecute citizens for abuse in private residences.
See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits child labor. The legal minimum age for employment is 18 years; however, employers may obtain permits from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor to employ juveniles between 15 and 18 years old in some nonhazardous trades. Juveniles may work a maximum of six hours a day with no more than four consecutive hours followed by a one-hour rest period. Juveniles cannot work overtime nor between 7:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.
Although it was not extensive, there were credible reports of child labor by domestic servants of South Asian origin and Bidoon children. Some underage workers entered the country on travel documents with falsified birth dates.
Bidoon children as young as seven worked long hours as street vendors, sometimes under dangerous conditions, according to reports by human rights NGOs. Their need to provide for their families often led to poor educational performance or abandoning school.
The government made efforts to enforce the law effectively. Approximately 300 Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor inspectors routinely monitored private firms for labor law compliance, including laws against child labor. Noncompliant employers faced fines or a forced suspension of their company operations. However, the government did not enforce child labor laws in informal sector occupations, such as street vending.
d. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law sets the national minimum private-sector wage at 60 dinars ($216) per month.
The law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours (40 hours for the petroleum industry), and gives private-sector workers 30 days of annual leave. The law also forbids requiring employees to work more than 60 hours per week or 10 hours per day. The law provides for 13 designated national holidays annually. Workers are entitled to 125 percent of base pay for working overtime and 150 percent of base pay for working on their designated weekly day off.
The government issued occupational health and safety standards. For example, the law provides that all outdoor work stop between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. during June, July, and August or times when the temperature rises to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.
The law and regulations governing acceptable conditions of work do not apply to domestic workers. The Ministry of Interior has jurisdiction over domestic worker matters.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor was responsible for enforcement of wage and hour, overtime, and occupational safety and health regulations. However, enforcement by the ministry was poor, especially with respect to unskilled foreign laborers.
Approximately 500 labor inspectors monitored private firms. The government periodically inspected enterprises to raise awareness among workers and employers and to ensure they abided by existing safety rules, controlled pollution in certain industries, trained workers to use machines, and reported violations.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor monitored work sites to ensure compliance with rules banning summer work and recorded hundreds of violations during the year. Workers could also report these violations to their embassies, the KTUF, or the Labor Disputes Department. Noncompliant employers faced warnings, fines, or forced suspensions of company operations, but these were often not substantial enough to deter violators.
Workers submitted complaints to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor’s Labor Disputes Department; however, the government did not enforce the standards uniformly.
At times the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor intervened to resolve labor disputes between foreign workers and their employers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor’s labor arbitration panel sometimes ruled in favor of foreign laborers who claimed violations of work contracts by their employers. The government was more effective in resolving unpaid salary disputes involving private-sector laborers than those involving domestic workers. However, during the year the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Domestic Labor Office collected 8,340 dinars ($30,000) owed to 71 domestic workers by their employers.
Foreign workers were vulnerable to unacceptable conditions of work. Domestic servants and other unskilled foreign workers in the private sector frequently worked substantially in excess of 48 hours a week, often with no day of rest.
Since labor standards did not apply to domestic workers, such workers had little recourse when employers violated their rights. There were no inspections of private residences, the workplace of the majority of the country’s domestic workers, nor did the government make significant efforts to address working conditions for these workers. Reports commonly indicated employers forced domestic workers to work overtime without additional compensation. There were frequent reports of domestic workers committing or attempting suicide due to desperation over abuse or poor working conditions.
May 1, 2013 - Posted by intlxpatr | Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Middle East, Qatar, Social Issues, Statistics, Transparency, Work Related Issues | Human Rights Practices, Labor Law Kuwait, Labor Law Qatar, Pope Francis, slaves
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