Migrant Workers

New Framework Agreement - Significant Progress in Protecting the Rights of Migrant Construction Work

22 January 2018

By Jin Sook Lee, Gender & Campaign Director, Building and Wood Workers' International, Sarah Tesei, Director of Social Innovation and Human Rights, VINCI

The construction industry in Qatar is an important part of the country’s economic development and will remain so for the foreseeable future. The sector relies on migrant workers who everywhere in the world are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Our organisations believe we can best live up to expectations through a joint and historic engagement for carrying out projects in Qatar.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) call for business to respect national laws as well as international human rights standards in all aspects of their operations. Our organisations - one of the world’s largest construction companies and our partner company responsible on the ground, along with the world’s most representative trade union organisation for construction workers - believe we can best live up to those expectations through a joint and historic engagement for carrying out projects in Qatar.

Shared Commitments

In November 2017, Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), VINCI, a French-based global construction and concessions company, and QDVC, a Qatari company formed by VINCI Construction Grands Projets and Qatari Diar, signed an agreement covering construction carried out by QDVC in Qatar. This agreement, signed in the presence of ILO Director General Guy Ryder, applies to all QDVC operations in Qatar.

BWI has global framework agreements with 22 multinational enterprises, most of which are in construction.

This is the first agreement involving BWI tailored to the specific circumstances of one country, Qatar, and signed with a local partner, QDVC. The agreement complements the commitments on rights and working conditions covered by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between BWI and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body charged by the Government of Qatar to build the World Cup 2022 facilities.  

The QDVC/VINCI/BWI agreement covers a broad range of issues, including occupational health and safety, wages, working time and holidays, among others.

At the global level, our organisations share a commitment to responsible construction.

VINCI is a founding member of the new trade body Building Responsibly and we agree on the need for fair recruitment and on ending abusive practices by recruitment agencies. VINCI has also joined the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment convened by IHRB. BWI has been associated with efforts to take on unscrupulous recruitment agencies through ILO processes and has stressed this issue, along with other global unions, in its interventions with the UN.

A Living Agreement

Our framework agreement represents a consensus both on immediate actions and future priorities. In other words, this “living agreement” builds in future cooperation on specific issues with the expectation that, as the environment changes, the agreement will change with it.

There are problems with the recruitment process when handled by subcontractors and manpower providers and this will be a focus of future work.

As virtually all construction workers in Qatar are migrants, we are addressing special problems that have existed in Qatar and other countries under the “kafala” system. The agreement provides that:

  • The recruitment process is free of fees for migrant workers;
  • Workers are fully informed of terms and conditions of employment and relevant legal provisions in a language they understand, prior to their deployment; 
  • There is no retention of passports and identity documents. QDVC provides workers with a closed cabinet or safety boxes for such documents as well as for other personal documents and valuable belongings.

We recognise that there are problems with the recruitment process when handled by subcontractors and manpower providers and this will be a focus of future work.

We will also address improved employment agreements among subcontracted workers, freedom of movement during off hours, the freedom to leave employment with reasonable notice and with “Non-Objection Certificates (NOCs)” on request. NOCs are required to accept employment elsewhere or to leave the country. 

Wider Reform in Qatar

At about the same time as our agreement was being concluded, the Government of Qatar made several commitments to the ILO to additional changes in legislation dealing with many of these same human rights issues. The planned legislative improvements should create a positive environment for our future cooperation. 

The legal changes will establish a direct responsibility of the State for documents of migrants. They will also require employers to provide safe places for workers’ personal documents where only they have access. This means employers will no longer control employment terms and workers will have the right to seek other jobs.

The planned legislative improvements should create a positive environment for our future cooperation. 

The Government will take further actions to ensure workers are not charged fees or subject to other abuses by recruitment agencies. This will include engagement with home country governments.

The Government of Qatar is also increasing considerably its labour inspection capacity and improving its complaints procedures.

These and other reforms are vital and are part of a process that should see further evolution.

As a result of these reforms announced by the Government of Qatar, the ILO agreed to close the complaint centred on forced labour. The ILO and the Government of Qatar have also entered into a three-year technical cooperation agreement that will bring law and practices into conformity with international standards. 
 

Implementing the Agreement

The QDVC/VINCI/BWI agreement covers a broad range of issues, including occupational health and safety, wages, working time and holidays, among others.

QDVC agrees to provide workers with safe, clean and decent living and leisure facilities.

Future activities on accommodations will include steps to ensure respect for freedom of cultural practices and the right to privacy. 

QDVC will further exercise due diligence with sub-contractors and manpower suppliers and improve systems to ensure the agreement is fully respected throughout the building process. 

Progress for construction workers depends on their effective right to participate in determining their own futures.

QDVC is also working with BWI to establish independent, elected workers’ welfare committees. Progress for construction workers depends on their effective right to participate in determining their own futures. Worker welfare committees are intended to discuss a range of topics including working and living conditions, security and welfare, and will prioritise occupational health and safety issues. The committees also work towards resolving worker complaints.

We will work together on a workers’ education and capacity-building programme for members of the committees. 

The agreement also establishes extensive follow-up and implementation procedures, including regular reporting and a process for dealing with infractions, as well as a reference group with two members from each of the three parties to oversee the agreement, resolving any conflicts, and revising it if and when necessary. 

Our commitment and determination to make this new agreement work are as important as the contents. Our hopes for future cooperation are founded, as the text states, “on the shared belief that all construction workers should be treated with dignity and live and work in decent and safe conditions”.

Our commitment and determination to make this new agreement work are as important as the contents. 

 

Image: Adam Jones/Flickr

Latest IHRB Publications

The Governance Legacy of Mega-Sporting Events: A Golden Opportunity to Promote Human Rights

Human rights’ next of kin is the global anti-corruption movement. These two efforts increasingly work in tandem, creating the conditions in which humans flourish. Their synergy has at least two explanations. Most obviously, we know that corruption...

Channelling Sir Geoffrey Chandler on the History and Future of Business and Human Rights

I write from Tokyo this week where I am honouring a longstanding commitment to address business and human rights issues. But there is nowhere in the world I would rather be today - professionally or personally - than with you at the Bonavero...

06 December 2018

Commentary by Bennett Freeman

Rights and Wrongs: Best Or Loudest?

Last week, Jack Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter, visited India. He met a few leading women activists and journalists who use the social media platform extensively, in order to understand better how they felt about the space his company...