Labor reforms in Qatar
In the prelude to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar received relentless criticism on migrants’ working conditions from the international community and mass media, causing the government to transform its labor system and uphold the rights of migrant workers through sweeping reforms.

Kafala System

Qatar’s kafala system ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers by requiring them to obtain their permission (a no-objection certificate) in order to change jobs. This, in turn, gives the employer entire control over the exit visa of his employees. This sponsorship and visa system not only leads to abuses and exploitation of labor practices, including the confiscation of migrant workers’ passports, but it also prevents a local domestic labor market from operating. Thus, radical labor reforms in Qatar are necessary in order for the country to develop itself according to international standards and to modernize its economy.

Recent Reforms

One of the significant steps Qatar made in 2017 was concluding a cooperation accord with the International Labor Organization (ILO). It stated that it would set a minimum wage and promised to repeal the kafala system. Later in 2017, Qatar introduced a temporary minimum wage of 750 Qatari Rial (approximately $200) and plans on introducing a non-discriminatory minimum wage by the end of 2019, making it the first country in the Gulf region to do so. These labor reforms in Qatar will improve migrant workers’ rights significantly, which will not only increase their working conditions but also their motivation to work, resulting in a more efficient and productive economy. In addition, Law No. 13 entered into force in October 2018, stating that migrant workers would no longer need their employers’ permission to enter and exit the country. These laws contribute to transforming Qatar’s current system into a modern industrial relations system.

Ending the Kafala System

However, Qatar still has not abolished the kafala system which caused hundreds of workers to go on strike and protest in August 2019. This is barring the fact that Qatari law strictly bans joining unions and participating in strikes. Protesting workers have reported that they have not received pay for months and are not receiving their renewed working permits from their employers, making it illegal for them to stay in the country. Consequently, Qatar’s Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs announced that the reform ending the Kafala system will enter into force in January 2020, facilitating the efficacy of the other recently introduced reforms as a whole.

Issue of Irregular Migration

Although positive, these reforms and Labor Laws do not cover migrant domestic workers with a local Qatari contract, meaning that the Labor Law does not protect them and they cannot seek assistance from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. By excluding migrant domestic workers, Qatar is not tackling the issue of irregular migrants and the illegality of employment, which is a major concern for the local authorities. The Sponsorship Law binds domestic migrant workers to their employers, and so, if they suffer abuse, they are likely to abscond and either seek illegal work in the country or attempt to return to their home country. An underground informal labor market developed in Qatar due to the high number of irregular workers looking for work, which is a predominant issue for the government. Indeed, one of the key objectives included in the Qatar National Vision 2030 is to develop a knowledge-based economy consisting of highly skilled people and reduce Qatar’s dependency on low-skilled foreign nationals. Therefore, the inclusion of domestic migrant workers and resolving the issue of irregular/illegal workers is essential for Qatar’s plan to become a modern economy with highly-skilled people.

The current labor reforms in Qatar are a major step towards improving the human rights of the millions of migrant workers living in the country, in addition to contributing to the development of Qatar’s fast-growing economy. Despite the implementation of these laws seeming interminable, Qatar focuses on long-lasting and profound changes in its labor market with the help and recognition of international organizations such as the ILO and the United Nations.

Andrea Duleux
Photo: Pixabay

Global Infancia Global Infancia is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that specializes in protecting children from abuse in Paraguay. It was founded in 1995, “Global Infancia works towards creating a culture which respects the rights of children and adolescents in Paraguay.”

It has attempted to promote the human rights of children in a myriad of ways, ranging from creating a branch of the government tasked with protecting children to founding a news agency focusing on children’s rights. Global Infancia represents the blueprint for a successful NGO because of its ability to form partnerships with governments, influence local communities, and follow through with its goals.

Partnerships with Governments

Studies have estimated that roughly 60 percent of children in Paraguay have been victims of violence. Faced with this fact, Global Infancia worked with the National Secretariat for Childhood and Adolescence along with the Paraguayan Government to pass a law stating “all children and adolescents have the right to be treated properly and with respect for their physical, psychological and emotional well-being. This includes protections for their image, identity, autonomy, ideas, emotions, dignity and individual values”.

Additionally, Global Infancia spearheaded the forming of Municipal Councils for the Rights of Children and Adolescence who have become instrumental in protecting children’s rights throughout Paraguay. Global Infancia’s work is proof of how a successful NGO can form fruitful partnerships with local governments.

Integration into the Local Community

Since the end of authoritarian rule in Paraguay, it has been working to integrate itself into local communities and promote the recognition of children’s rights. In the town of Remansito, Global Infancia is providing supplementary nutrition and school support to over 1,000 children. Approximately 22 percent of Paraguayans live below the poverty line. The child labor force of participation with a rate of 25 percent, shows that the conditions for many children in Paraguay are not ideal.

However, Global Infancia recognized these problems and has created national media campaigns to raise awareness for children’s rights and used training forums around the country to educate the public that violence against children will no longer be tolerated. Finally, Global Infancia has harnessed the power of local communities by “installing an alert system which reduces the demand for childhood labor”. These actions illustrate how a successful NGO employs the power of the communities they are working in.

Accomplishing Goals

At its inception, it was primarily focused on fighting the trafficking of babies and children. Today it has evolved into a children’s rights organization with a bevy of goals. Whether it be their success at establishing legal rights for children in Paraguay or the founding of CODENIS bodies which protect children throughout the country today, Global Infancia has had a considerable impact on Paraguayan society. In a 2017 report by the United States Department of Labor, experts found significant advancement in Paraguay’s fight to end child labor.

However, the current situation still puts many children in danger, requiring more resources to fully end child labor. With the help of Global Infancia and the multitude of other successful NGO’s, there are no doubts that Paraguay will continue to see improvements to children’s rights.

Overall, Global Infancia is a perfect example of how a successful NGO operates. From its crucial government and community partnerships to their impressive track record of accomplishing its goals.

Myles McBride Roach

Photo: Flickr

Labor Unions in MexicoIn May 2019, workers won the right to form labor unions in Mexico. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), seven out of 10 Mexicans live in poverty or vulnerability. Meanwhile, the country’s minimum wage is $5.40 a day. Below are 10 facts about labor unions in Mexico and the promise of their implementation to alleviate Mexican poverty.

10 Facts About Labor Unions in Mexico

  1. Before the start of labor reform, thousands of Mexican workers went on strike for better pay, safer working conditions and union representation. The strikes shut down dozens of factories, resulting in 48 assembly plants agreeing to the workers’ demands.
  2. By granting workers the right to form labor unions, they can now engage in collective bargaining. This means that workers in Mexico, organized in a union, can negotiate their own pay, benefits and workplace conditions. Furthermore, they can provide a safeguard against workplace harassment and unlawful business practices.
  3. Many Mexican workers are already members of a union. Due to the fact that these unions completely exclude workers from their processes, however, others have dubbed them ghost unions. Employers establish these unions and they largely exist only on paper. Upon hiring, companies make workers join their union, which prevents workers from forming their own union and negotiating terms themselves. In fact, companies in Mexico force nine out of 10 union contracts without the consent, and sometimes knowledge, of their workers.
  4. Mexican President López Obrador implemented the new labor laws. He did this along with both branches of the Mexican congress in order to raise living standards, reduce crime and discourage migration to the United States. The left-wing president promises to carry out a “radical transformation” in Mexico, focusing on the needs of the poor and rooting out corruption.
  5. Wages in Mexico have fallen far behind the rate of inflation. The average hourly wage for a factory worker in Mexico, traditionally a unionized job, is approximately $2. Collective bargaining gives workers the right to negotiate wages, ensuring that workers have the efficacy to reduce the gap between inflation and pay.
  6. Depending on the collective bargaining contract, many unions provide protections against workplace harassment and unjust employee termination. Human Rights Watch (HRW) identifies forced pregnancy tests and mistreatment of migrant workers as areas of particular concern in Mexico. Employee complaints led to no change in business practices, but union contracts give workers the opportunity to push the issue in order to protect the most vulnerable among them.
  7. HRW and Mexican workers cite unsafe workplace conditions. These indicate employees need more robust labor protections. President Obrador campaigned on a promise to improve workers’ conditions through union representation. The need for better conditions is clear; HRW described some workplaces in Mexico as “life-threatening.”
  8. According to the OECD, 71 percent of the value created by corporations in Mexico goes to shareholders. On the other hand, workers receive only 28 percent. Employees in the United States, on the other hand, have a 69 percent share, and shareholders receive 21 percent of the value created. The disproportionate share exists as evidence of a lack of workers’ representation and labor unions in Mexico can help reverse the trend.
  9. The North American Free Trade Agreement included provisions in order to protect workers’ rights. According to HRW, people often ignored those provisions, especially in Mexico. The recent labor reform comes on the heels of a renegotiated trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The USMCA seeks to, among other things, reduce the gap between workers’ protections in all three signatories.
  10. While labor unions will not completely alleviate Mexican poverty, the country can expect to make some gains. As the share of the value created by corporations becomes more evenly distributed among workers, the Mexican economy will benefit as a whole. Put simply, a larger share of the money will remain in Mexico due to union representation.

Stronger worker protections in Mexico promise to strengthen its middle-class and help the poor. By reducing the degree of poverty, Mexico can also expect to enjoy greater stability. Labor unions in Mexico present an opportunity for economic expansion, foreign investment and an entirely new market for consumer goods.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Google Images

Facts about Workers' Rights in China
While China has grown to be one of the world’s largest economies, nearly 500 million citizens still live on less than $2 a day. As China’s economy booms, its laborers suffer. While the struggle for workers’ rights in China has been arduous, workers are collectively making their voices heard and are finding power in strikes and protests.

  1. Employers tread on workers’ rights – Independent labor unions are illegal in China. The government only endorses one union, known as the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). All other unions fall under their hierarchical control. Since ACFTU is tied to the government, it prioritizes government stability. Most workers do not see it as a reliable advocate for their rights.China Labor Watch (CLW), a workers’ advocacy group, investigated working conditions at Catcher Technology Co., a company that manufactures parts for Apple, Inc. CLW discovered many instances of unpaid overtime work, forced improper handling of toxic materials and work on machines without proper training. Workers report feeling nauseous from the fumes, getting headaches from the noise of the machines––and working so hard that their hands turn white.
  2. Law fails to protect workers’ rights in China – Under Chinese law, workers are technically guaranteed the right to a 40-hour work week with overtime pay, a minimum wage and social security benefits. But enforcement is down to the local governments. Unfortunately, underfunded and understaffed local governments often ignore violations of workers’ rights in China.When violations are reported, documented proof of employment is required to take employers to court. However, the rise of the “informal economy” in China means that many migrant workers are working without formal contracts. They are not officially employed anywhere, moving to and from companies to work during peak production seasons.
  3. Labor activists are changing the landscape – But Chinese workers are standing up. Approximately 600 worker strikes or protests were reported in 2017 alone, but estimates accounting for unreported strikes in recent years are even higher. In 2010, it was China’s youth that led the way. At the Nanhai Honda factory, a 23-year-old named Tan Guocheng led a 19-day long strike of young workers demanding higher wages––and they were victorious.When the Lide shoe factory decided to relocate in 2014, it did not consult its workers; instead, it provided them with little to no compensation. Workers came together to demand fair compensation for the relocation and the welfare benefits the company already legally owed them but had not been paying them. In a collective bargaining process that lasted for over nine months, the company was forced to compensate its workers and finally cover their social insurance and housing funds.
  4. The Chinese government cracks down on activists – In March of 2016, eight workers were sentenced to up to eight months in prison just for protesting their low wages in public. They were charged with the crime of “severely obstructing social-administrative order.”Wu Guijun used to be a factory worker and is now a dedicated labor activist. After organizing a protest of two hundred people, he was detained for more than a year. His crime? “Gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic.” Guijun was eventually acquitted.
  5. NGOs fight for workers’ rights in China – After Guijun was acquitted, he was compensated by the government and used that money to found a labor rights group called Xin Gong Yi. This nongovernmental organization (NGO) stands up for workers by giving them legal advice.The Panyu Workers’ Service Centre, an NGO based in the city of Guangzhou, advocates for better labor laws. They submit key research reports to the Chinese legislature, stressing the importance of protecting all citizens equally. For example, they helped draft a new social security law in 2008 that increased the legally mandated welfare benefits for workers.

China’s economic prosperity is built on the backs of its laborers. But, when they engage in collective action and demand to be treated fairly, they can be a pivotal political force. Panyu activist, Zhu Xiaomei, explains in the documentary “We the Workers”: “There’s only one way: solidarity.”

– Ivana Bozic
Photo: Flickr