WORKPLACE / OCT. 30, 2013
version 6, draft 6

Worked to Death

Every year thousands of workers from countries such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Nepal leave their families behind to persue work in the Middle East and Asia. Unfortunately, for many of these workers the jobs they are traveling to are not always what they seem, and in extreme cases, foreign workers fall victim to horrendous abuse at the hands of their employers.

Abuse of Domestic Workers

Many female domestic workers flee to the Middle East in the hope of earning a good salary and living a better standard of life. According to the International Labor Organisation (ILO), as of 2010, there were 53 million domestic workers worldwide, with millions more undocumented, and a staggering 11.5 million under the age of 18. The ILO  reported  that "30% of the world domestic workers, work in countries where they are completely excluded from national labor laws, meaning that they have no protections like weekly rest days, minimum wage, overtime or limits on hours of work." 

When left unprotected by labor laws these workers are left at the mercy of tyrannous employers. Horrific incidents of abuse have been reported, including beatings, imprisonment and deprivation of food or medical care.  Three years ago, a 49 year old Sri Lankan woman was subjected to the hammering of 24 hot nails into her hand by her Saudi employers; this horrific abuse was well publicized in the media, but many other cases of abuse remain unheard. Understandably, rates of self harming and suicide are high as workers resort to desperate measures to escape their dreadful living conditions.

The Domestic Workers Convention is a movement that was created by the ILO to protect the rights of domestic workers. Since 2011, 10 countries have signed  the convention: Uruguay, Philippines, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Italy, Bolivia, Paraguay, South Africa, Guyana and Germany. The Middle East and Asia, with the exception of the Philippines, are conspicuously absent from the list even though they are the most relient on domestic help with 31.8% of the female working population being domestic workers!

Laborer Working Conditions in Qatar

Earlier this Year, British newspaper 'The Guardian' released a story examining the deaths of Nepali workers in Qatar. The Paper reported that during the month of July, 32 young men died while working on infrastructure sites in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. The report went on to say that there was evidence of forced labor with salaries being withheld and passports illigally confiscated. Some workers were not allowed access to drinking water during their working day. Daytime temperatures in Qatar in July average 41 degree Celsius, making the restriction on drinking water compleley barbaric. The cause of death in most cases was stated as cardiac arrest. 

Nepal has the second largest migrant workforce in Qatar after India and its economy relies heavily on money sent home by its migrant workers.  There are approximately 340,000 Nepali workers presently in Qatar and The World Bank calculates that remittances account for 22% of Nepals entire economic output.

International pressure on Fifa to pull the World Cup out of Qatar forced the government to make a statement about labor abuse in the country. Qatars minister of labor, Salah al-Khulaifi announced that the Gulf state would recruit more inspectors to mount raids and checks on companies to ensure they complied with labor laws and hired more interpreters to speed up the handling of complaints from foreign workers.  In response, The ITUC remarked that the statement was simply "a major damage-limitation exercise."

The abuse of laborers in Qatar is one example of the exploitation of immigrant workers, but there are many more incidents that are never made public. Prevention of employee abuse is challanging but the modern world should be able to come together and make slavery history, for good. Every human needs the right to provide for themselves and their family without the threat of harm. 



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