An international human rights group has slammed Qatar for failing to protect foreign maids and other domestic workers from exploitation, adding pressure on the Gulf state over its labour practices as it gears up to host soccer's 2022 World Cup.
Amnesty International said in a report released yesterday that the migrant workers in the natural-gas-rich country face abuse including forced labour, excessively long work hours, verbal harassment, and physical and sexual violence.
Its researchers spoke to women who reported working as many as 100 hours per week with no days off, and others who were banned from leaving the house.
Like millions of other migrant workers in the region, their residency in the country is tied to their employers through a sponsorship system that stops workers from easily changing jobs.
"Women who find themselves in abusive households face utterly miserable conditions," Audrey Gaughran, the group's global issues director, said in a statement. "They have few options - if they choose to simply get out of the house, they will be branded 'runaways' and are likely to end up being detained and deported."
Opec member Qatar has come under increasing fire over its treatment of foreign workers, particularly those working in a booming construction industry raising plush villas and cutting-edge skyscrapers from the sand.
Domestic workers are not covered under Qatar's standard labour law. There are no legal limits to how long they can work or mandates that they be given a day off, according to Amnesty.
The group published a report in November cataloguing alleged human rights abuses. Researcher James Lynch said it decided to issue a separate one focused on domestic workers because "it is important they are not a footnote to the issues that construction workers face".
At least 84,000 foreign female domestic workers are employed in Qatar, most of them from the countries of South and Southeast Asia, according to Amnesty. The International Labour Organisation found said last year that domestic workers in Qatar worked an average of 60 hours a week.
A statement from the ministry of foreign affairs sent to Amnesty sought to make clear that legal safeguards exist.
"The exclusion of this group of workers from the scope of the Labour Law does not mean a lack of legal protection for their rights or that there is no law to protect these rights," the statement said.