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Labour group slams Qatar plan

Migrant labourers in Doha work on a construction site to fit plumbing for a building’s fire sprinklers in 2013.
Migrant labourers in Doha work on a construction site to fit plumbing for a building’s fire sprinklers in 2013. AFP

Labour group slams Qatar plan

A major trade union group has condemned Cambodia’s plans to finalise an agreement with Qatar to send workers there as the Gulf state prepares for the 2022 World Cup.

Sharan Burrow, secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation, said in a statement yesterday that Cambodia’s labour laws were “seriously deficient” and left workers vulnerable to exploitation.

“[T]he government is now preparing to allow Cambodian workers to be sent to Qatar, where the brutal reality of work belies the promises that recruitment agencies frequently give to unsuspecting migrant workers,” she said.

In February, Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Ouch Borith and Mohamed Bin Abdulla Al-Rumaihi, Qatar’s assistant minister for foreign affairs, met to discuss the agreement.

But the Labour Ministry’s director of employment and manpower, Hem Bunny, yesterday said that several attempts to formally finalise a memorandum of understanding on the matter had fallen on deaf ears.

“We have sent a few times a letter to Qatar to send a technical working group to discuss with Cambodia about labour conditions, minimum wage, holidays for labourers, the religious beliefs, and so on,” he said.

“We have not heard a response from Qatar for nearly two years.”

Thousands of migrant workers have moved to Qatar ahead of the World Cup, many from South Asia. The preparations have been marred by reports of unsafe working environments, physical and sexual abuse, with some groups estimating that thousands of workers have already died on the job.

Under the country’s kafala sponsorship system, migrant workers are tied to their employers and cannot leave the country without their permission.

Qatar and Cambodia originally endorsed the plan in 2008, the same year as it signed an agreement to send workers to nearby Kuwait.

Bunny of the Labour Ministry said five companies had been granted licences to send workers to the two countries in recent months, adding that the firms would not be allowed to send the workers they recruit until a formal agreement was reached.

One firm, KCTC Manpower Supply, a Korean-owned company, has already begun its recruitment process. Its website says it plays a “vital role to improve [workers’] standard of living and helps employees to build up a bright future”.

KCTC chairwoman Yoon Dong Soo could not be reached, and a company representative at the firm’s Seoul head office declined to comment.

“Whatever the company does to recruit workers right now is not wrong, but they must be careful not to promise workers to give them a job in the short term,” the Labour Ministry’s Bunny said.

Chuob Narath, deputy director general of the ministry’s Labour Department, said finalising the deal depended on high-level discussions taking place.

“I cannot say about this, because everything runs through the diplomatic channels, through the embassies and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We need to wait for approval to come from diplomatic channels,” he said.

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