Population: 628 000
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 - 111 - 138 - 182
The labour code that entered into force in 2005 has not produced the hoped for improvements. No union was created in 2006 and workers’ rights, especially those of migrants, are still as badly protected as ever.
Trade union rights in law
Limited trade union rights: A new labour code came into force in January 2005. It allows for free trade unions, but only for Qatari nationals. It contains many restrictions. A union must have a minimum membership of 100 workers, and those working in the government sector are not allowed to organise.
The new constitution that came into force in January 2005 keeps ultimate power in the hands of the emir, but provides for a two-thirds elected advisory body. It guarantees freedom of expression and assembly, both important rights for the full and free functioning of trade union organisations.
Collective bargaining: The new law allows trade unions to carry out collective bargaining, but that right is heavily curtailed by the government’s control over the rules and procedures for bargaining.
Severe limitations on the right to strike: Although the new code recognises the right to strike, it contains so many obstacles that it is extremely difficult to do so within the law. Civil servants and domestic workers cannot strike. No worker in a public utility, health or security service can strike if it harms the public or causes damage to property. In the private sector, although most workers have the right to strike, they can only do so after the Labour Department of the Ministry of Civil Service has ruled on the dispute, which effectively neutralises the purpose of striking. Foreign workers have tended not to draw attention to problems with their employers for fear of repatriation.
In contrast, under the same conditions, employers are authorised to lock out or sack workers.
Trade union rights in practice
Migrant workers: Migrant workers make up three-quarters of the workforce. Most work in the private and semi-private sectors, where they often fall victim to abuse from their employers. Migrants in Qatar are bound by the sponsor system, a regulation that restricts the workers' movements and puts them at the mercy of their employers.
Repeated strikes: Despite the legal restrictions, strikes and sit-ins have been held, mostly owing to non-payment of wages. In March 2006, for example, 1,500 Nepalese workers stopped work in a construction firm. They were protesting about wage arrears of between two and six months and salary deductions to cover visa costs. On 4 November 2006, 2,000 construction workers downed tools and demanded wage increases and better working conditions.
Violations in 2006
Arrests and repatriation of strikers: On 13 April in Ras Laffan, around a thousand migrant workers were involved in scuffles with the police and the army, which carried out many arrests. The demonstration had broken out following the discovery of the dead bodies of two Nepalese workers in a workers’ dormitory. The protesters also insisted on access to health care, decent housing and better food. In December, 150 Nepalese workers from a food company went on strike. They denounced the ridiculously long working hours which were not even paid as overtime. The employer responded by accusing three Nepalese workers of theft. Despite the demonstrators’ protests, the three Nepalese were taken to a detention centre and later deported.