May 2, 2006
DOHA — An officially-sanctioned Qatari rights group warned on Tuesday of the less-than-human working conditions of the expatriate labor force in the Gulf state and urged the government to take action.
"The abuse of labor rights is on the rise especially in the building and construction sector, which is something that would tarnish the image of the country if not checked," the National Human Rights Committee said.
"Domestic help are treated like chattel, they work long hours, they are beaten, detained, sexually harassed and sometimes raped," the committee said in its annual report.
It said that it received 116 individual and 15 group complaints last year.
Like other Gulf Arab states, gas-rich Qatar has experienced phenomenal wealth in recent years from rising energy prices and is spending billions of dollars on building new infrastructure and skyscrapers, requiring the import of more and more laborers from Asia, mainly India and Pakistan.
Gulf states have for years depended on the migrant Asian workforce to do everything from working on oil rigs, sweeping streets, serving food and cleaning homes with the more educated virtually running the service sector.
The plight of laborers is not unique to Qatar.
Booming Dubai saw violent protests by construction workers last week and in March over wages and living conditions, amid reports that authorities have deported those labeled as troublemakers.
The Qatari committee said that the hardship that laborers face stem from an inflexible sponsorship system under which employers hold the passports of the employees, the delays in getting paid and unsuitable living conditions.
It has called on the government to revise all laws concerning expatriate workers.
The committee, which was established three years ago, has 15 members, of whom eight are government representatives.
Qatar, a peninsula located halfway along the Gulf's west coast, has a population of 750,000, of whom only 150,000 are nationals.