Crossroads Arabia

Labour: Qatar Trade Union Gets the Go Ahead

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First in the Gulf, but not in the Middle East. The Palestinian Trade Union movement has 290,000 members, and has been funded largely, and a little ironically, by Saudi, Egypt and Syria.

Saudi Gazette runs a story, apparently from Agence France Presse, reporting that Qatar will allow the formation of trade unions. In addition, it will end the current system of sponsorship for foreign workers.

Saudi Arabia has already mooted about ideas of ending its own sponsorship program, taking the authority and responsibility of hiring and managing foreign workers out of the hands of individuals and companies and instead putting them under the control of a few, specialized companies. Workers’ unions, though, are another matter.

Saudi history in regard to the union movement has been harsh. Unionism first raised its head in the 1950s, at the oil facilities in the Eastern Province. Unionism smacked a bit too much of communism, the ultimate enemy of God on Earth according to Saudi clerics and rulers. It did not help matters that would-be union leaders appeared to have had connections with the USSR as well as the suspect Arab Nationalists running Egypt at the time. Discredited on both political and religious grounds, unionism became a major taboo as well as a readily prosecuted crime.

This attitude has not noticeably softened over time, though there have been calls to reexamine the issue. In 2001, the government authorized the formation of ‘labor committees’ in companies employing more than 100 Saudi nationals, but did not extend membership to foreign workers. International organizations have condemned the ban considering the ability of workers to organize a basic right.

Now, Qatar, a sister member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, is authorize unions. This will put additional pressure on the Saudi government – and it will be harder to ignore because it’s a bordering country.

Qatar to allow trade union, scrap sponsorship

DOHA — Qatar is to allow the establishment of a trade union to protect labor rights and scrap the “sponsor” system for foreign workers, a top official said in local dailies Tuesday.

The union, independent from the labor ministry, “will have the right to receive the complaints of workers and protect their rights,” the ministry’s undersecretary Hussein Al-Mulla told Alarab daily.

The union “will be run by Qataris but as a foreigner you will have the right to vote but not run in the board of directors elections,” he said, adding that the project awaited the emir’s approval.

The Gulf state will also scrap the much-criticized sponsor system for foreign labor, as it aims to gradually recruit one million workers for the 2022 World Cup tournament it is to host, said Mulla. “There is an intention to cancel the sponsor system and replace it with a contract between the worker and the employer,” he told the daily.

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