Study highlights migrant workers’ lives in Qatar

March 13, 2011
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Two thirds of migrant workers in Qatar receive their salaries on time, a study has found. However 63 per cent of those surveyed said their jobs were either “so-so”, or “bad”.

According to the study, presented at a seminar on the sponsorship system at Qatar University, 67 per cent of the questioned workers said they got their wages on time, while six per cent said that they never received their salary on time.

The survey showed that 30 per cent of the respondents said they sometimes got their salaries on time.

On the professional status, 37 per cent described their jobs as “good”, while 53 per cent said their jobs are “so-so” and 10 per cent said their jobs were “bad”.

The results were presented by Dr Silvia Pessoa, of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, who headed the research team composed of undergraduate students.

The study was funded by the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) under the Undergraduate Research Experience Programme (UREP).

She said the research was conducted to fulfil personal and professional interests in migrant worker populations internationally, to tackle the lack of systematic information about the migrant labour matters and for educational purposes aiming to promote social responsibility and citizenship among her students, Qatari dailyGulf Times reported on Sunday.

The study examined the demographics, characteristics, and living and working conditions of migrant labourers in Qatar.

The researchers found that the migrant labourers earned, in the best case, 2,000 Qatari rials (Dh2.017) in a month.

Dr Pessoa said the major problems that the respondents said they faced were the “heavy debt to pay placement agencies”, “the long work hours for low salary”, the “withholding of passports by sponsors”, “the lack of affordable telecommunications” and the “poor recourse for complaints”.

According to the survey findings, 90 per cent of the Asian workers went to Qatar for economic reasons.

The others went due to the political instability in their countries, or following the culture of migration as “everyone was doing it”, or for the interest of living in a different place.

The survey found that half of the workers had paid “before landing in Qatar” to the recruiting agency a mean sum of 2,083 Qatari rials, which was almost four times their average monthly salary.

The most common means of paying the recruiting agency was through a loan. Some 28 per cent reported they are employed without a legal contract and 88 per cent said that they relinquished passports to their sponsors, despite the law amendments in this regard.

According to the survey results, 35 per cent of the workers worked seven days a week, a blatant violation of the labour law with an average of almost 12 hours a day.

Some 38 per cent of the migrant workers said they were unemployed prior to their move to Qatar due to the high domestic unemployment rate, lack of training or education and political instability. Some 22 per cent said they had previously worked abroad for a period ranging between two months and 23 years.

On the remittances of the workers to their countries, the study found that 66 per cent of the money went to parents, 30 per cent to spouses and seven per cent to children.

The average remittance of the surveyed respondents moved around 700 Qatari rials, which constituted almost 70 per cent of their average salary. The most common remittance method was the exchange houses (64 per cent) and banks (30 per cent). The third way to deliver money home was by hand-to-hand through a friend.

In another study, also funded by QNRF under the UREP initiative, Dr Pessoa and two Qatari students collected 542 articles related to low-income migrant workers in Qatar, in two English daily newspapers in Qatar, including the Gulf Times, in a period of 30 months.

According to the students’ analysis, the issue of “immigrant workers involved in crimes” occupied the top interest of the local press, forming 18 per cent of the articles in the two local dailies during this period.

It was followed by the “aid provided by national embassies”, “accidents and fatalities” and “abuse and exploitation in the work environment”, with 10 per cent each of the total reports.

“Governmental initiatives to address this issue” made up nine per cent, “attention and aid provided by the National Human Rights Committee” eight per cent “the cultural, economic, and political impact of immigrants and immigration” also eight per cent, “work documentation challenges”, 7.4 per cent and “general information on the immigrant workers’ issues” seven per cent .

The study found that the three important topics of “poor living conditions in the accommodation camps”, the “health-related issues”, and the “aid provided by the community organisations” attracted the least focus of the local press “although there was a significant improvement in those areas, as per the testimonies of the labourers”.

The study recommended “enforcing existing labour laws to prevent worse abuses, to rein in placement agencies to reduce debt, and to initiate change in sponsorship system “to reduce power disparity between employers and workers”.

Two articles that caught the researchers’ attention were headed: “Expatriate labourers are actually proving more of a burden to the country than providing any benefits” and “Housemaids had a negative impact on host families”.

When it was published, the first article received much public attention, response, and negative criticism from expatriates in Qatar.

However, more research was needed to address “the potential negative impact of domestic workers on host families”.

Despite all the various problems faced by many low-income migrant workers in Qatar, respondents underscored that “work is work and money is money,” Pessoa said.

Pessoa is now working with Andrew Gardner from Puget Sound University on a related project funded by QNRF under the National Priorities Research Programme (NPRP).

The project includes a survey of 1,000 low-income migrant workers in Qatar about their living and working conditions, in addition to documenting the lives of 12 workers for a year-and-a-half through monthly interviews.

http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/bahrain/study-highlights-migrant-workers-lives-in-qatar-1.772358

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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