Amid the rising number of problems raised by migrant workers there, officials of Qatar’s human rights body visited the Philippines to assure overseas Filipino workers (OFW) that the Middle East country is stepping up efforts to safeguard their welfare.
In a round-table discussion Friday, an official of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) said they have been touring countries sending their labor force to Qatar to explain available remedies in cases of labor-related problems of migrant workers.
“Most workers don’t know there are bodies in Qatar that will accept their complaints,” said Fahed Ahmed Al-Muhammad, head of the NHRC’s legal department, saying the committee was created to protect and promote human rights in the country including those of migrant workers.
According to the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), the Philippine Embassy and the labor office in Qatar recorded some 1,800 cases of distressed OFWs, about 460 cases of runaway workers, and over 800 repatriated Filipinos during the first semester of 2008.
Al-Muhammad added they have recorded more than 1,200 complaints from migrant workers of all nationalities in 2009.
Standard contract in Qatar
During the discussion, a former Qatar worker now in the Philippines said he had Filipino friends who complained they were given salaries lower than indicated on their contracts.
A woman likewise complained her husband was deployed as a carpenter but was instead assigned as a steel fixer — a more difficult job — when he got to Qatar.
His salary remained the same, however, the woman added.
Others meanwhile said there were reports of workers being made to work for longer hours, or sent to Qatar only to find out the projects were non-existent.
Al-Muhammad thus scored the need for both Filipino workers and agencies to ensure that they sign and process only the standard contract accepted in Qatar.
“There is a standard employment contract in Qatar, and the embassies are given copies of this,” he explained.
Even those processed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) are thus sometimes not accepted in Qatar if they are different from the country’s standard contract, he said.
One problem with the Qatari labor code, Al-Muhammad added, is that it does not cover migrant domestic workers as they are not classified as workers in Qatar.
He also expressed hope that the bilateral labor agreement initiated by the Qatari government, which is expected to better protect migrant workers, will soon be signed by the Philippine government.
Protection of migrant workers
Al-Muhammad nevertheless said his country has made gains toward improving the lot of migrant workers there.
One example is that labor courts in Qatar almost always rule in favor of the workers in cases of disputes.
“100 percent of the cases heard in courts are resolved in favor of the workers, especially if the workers’ complaints are well justified,” he said.
He cautioned, however, that Qatari courts have recently noted that some migrant workers use court cases as a means to prolong their stay in the country while looking for another job.
The Qatari labor code provides mechanisms for workers to seek resolution to their concerns even while in the country, added CMA executive director Ellene Sana.
“Workers don’t need to come home immediately if they have complaints, as these can be filed before the Qatari labor office and the NHRC,” she explained.
Qatar-RP labor relations
Participants in the discussion, which included representatives from Solidarity Center, Migrant Forum Asia, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Commission on Human Rights and recruitment agencies, also gave suggestions to enhance labor relations between Qatar and the Philippines.
One suggestion is to beef up the labor office there, which currently has only four employees serving about 200,000 migrant Filipinos.
Another is to deploy a human rights attaché in all Philippine posts around the world.
The OWWA was also urged to improve the Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar it gives to outbound workers, to include their families as participants and former OFWs as speakers.
Records from the POEA show Qatar ranks fourth among the top destinations of land-based OFW, with almost 90,000 OFWs deployed there in 2009.
Of the figure, over 6,000 work as household service workers.
In 2009, OFWs in Qatar sent home over $180 million in remittances, which is an increase of over 700 percent from just $25 million in 2003.—JV, GMANews.TV
By JERRIE M. ABELLA, GMANews.TV