Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press in accordance with the law, but the government limited these rights. Self-censorship remained the primary obstacle to free speech and press.
Freedom of Speech: Citizens did not regularly discuss sensitive political and religious issues in public forums, but they discussed these issues in private and on social media. The law prohibits residents from criticizing the amir. Members of the majority foreign population exercised self-censorship on sensitive topics. The law penalizes by up to three years in prison damaging, removing, or performing an action that expresses hate and contempt to the country’s flag, the Gulf Cooperation Council flag, or the flag of any international organization or authority. The use of the national flag without formal permission from authorities, displaying a damaged or discolored flag, or changing the flag by adding photographs, text, or designs to it are also criminalized.
In January the amir approved new provisions in the law that increase penalties for “crimes against internal state security” as the law defines them. Public figures and international organizations criticized the wording of the amendments and associated penalties as interfering with freedom of expression. The new law criminalizes a broad range of speech and publishing activities both on and offline with penalties including up to five years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. Amnesty International noted that the law signaled “a worrying regression from commitments made two years ago to guarantee the right to freedom of expression,” referring to the government’s 2018 accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Human Rights Watch called the new regulation “a setback for freedom of expression.”
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law includes restrictive procedures on the establishment of newspapers, their closure, and the confiscation of assets of a publication. The Doha Center for Media Freedom, a government-funded entity known to be vocal on press freedom issues, was closed in 2019 without official explanation.
Members of the ruling family or proprietors who enjoyed close ties to government officials owned all print media. Both private and government-owned television and radio reflected government views, although call-in shows allowed for some citizen criticism of government ministries and policies. While media generally did not criticize authorities or the country’s policies, specific ministries and even individual ministers were regular targets of criticism in print media. The government owned and partially funded the Doha-based al-Jazeera satellite television network, which carried regional, international, and theme-based programming. It also partially funded other media outlets operating in the country. Some observers and former al-Jazeera employees alleged the government influenced the content produced by that news outlet.
In July the al-Arab daily newspaper announced its closure due to financial struggles, leaving only three local Arabic-language newspapers. Local media outlets faced financial difficulty due to COVID-19 countermeasures and consequently underwent massive job cuts, making them depend primarily on the national news agency for content.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Qatar Media Corporation, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, and customs officials censored material. The government reviewed, censored, or banned foreign newspapers, magazines, films, and books for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content. Journalists and publishers continued to self-censor due to political and economic pressures when reporting on government policies or material deemed denigrating to Islam, the ruling family, and relations with neighboring states.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel and slander, including “insult to dignity.” A journalist may be fined and imprisoned for one year for defamation and reporting of “false news.” The law restricts the publication of information that slanders the amir or heir apparent; defames the Abrahamic faiths or includes blasphemy; harms the national currency or the economic situation; or violates the dignity of persons, the proceedings of investigations, and prosecutions in relation to family status, and punishes violators with up to seven years’ imprisonment.
National Security: The law restricts the publication of information that could defame the state or endanger its safety, incite the overthrow of the regime or harm supreme state interests, report official secret agreements, or prejudice heads of state or disturb relations.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were reports, however, of government corruption during the year.
The law gives the State Audit Bureau financial authority and independence and allows it to publish parts of its findings provided confidential information is removed.
Corruption: In October the Attorney General’s Office opened investigations on five individuals related to charges of money laundering. The announcement did not include any details of the case or the identities of the accused.
The quasi-governmental commission responsible for the country’s World Cup 2022 bid denied new allegations during the year regarding vote buying in the 2010 FIFA bidding process.
Financial Disclosure: There are no legal requirements for public officials to disclose their income and assets, and they did not do so.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law does not allow workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, which made the exercise of these rights difficult. The law provides local citizen workers in private sector enterprises that have 100 citizen workers age 18 and older a limited right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The law excludes government employees, noncitizens, domestic workers, drivers, nurses, cooks, gardeners, casual workers, workers employed at sea, and most workers employed in agriculture and grazing from the right to join worker committees or the national union, effectively banning these workers from organizing, bargaining collectively, or striking.
The law permits the establishment of “joint committees” with an equal number of worker and management representatives to deal with a limited number of workplace problems. Foreign workers may be members of joint labor-management committees. The law offers a means to file collective disputes. If disputes are not settled internally between the employees and employer, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs may mediate a solution. An agreement signed between the ministry and the International Labor Organization (ILO) includes provisions to create these committees with ILO supervision and assistance. Under the umbrella of this agreement and as of August, at least five joint committees initiated operations and held elections to choose employee representatives. Following the formation of “joint committees,” the ILO provided extensive training to the committee members on how to manage the committees, how to establish open channels of communications with workers and management, and the mechanisms to submit complaints to the competent authorities.
The law requires approval by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs for worker organizations to affiliate with groups outside the country. The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining outside of the joint committees.
The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws or levy penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. For those few workers covered by the law protecting the right to collective bargaining, the government circumscribed the right through its control over the rules and procedures of the bargaining and agreement processes. The labor code allows for only one trade union, the General Union of Workers of Qatar (General Union), which was composed of general committees for workers in various trades or industries. Trade or industry committees were composed of worker committees at the individual firm level. The General Union was not a functioning entity.
Employees could not freely practice collective bargaining, and there were no workers under collective bargaining contracts. While rare, when labor unrest occurred, mostly involving the country’s overwhelmingly foreign workforce, the government reportedly responded by dispatching large numbers of police to the work sites or labor camps involved; the government also requested the assistance of the embassies for the nationals involved. Strikes generally ended after these shows of force and the involvement of embassies to resolve disputes. In many cases the government summarily deported the workers’ leaders and organizers.
Although the law recognizes the right to strike for some workers, restrictive conditions made the likelihood of a legal strike extremely remote. The law requires approval for a strike by three-fourths of the General Committee of the workers in the trade or the industry, and potential strikers also must exhaust a lengthy dispute resolution procedure before a lawful strike may be called. Civil servants and domestic workers do not have the right to strike; the law also prohibits strikes at public utilities and health or security service facilities, including the gas, petroleum, and transportation sectors. The Complaint Department of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, in coordination with the Ministry of Interior, must preauthorize all strikes, including approval of the time and place. In May, several hundred migrant workers staged a protest over unpaid salaries. Security forces surrounded the location of the protest but did not disperse the protesters. The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs released a statement the following day assuring that the ministry would pay salaries in full.
In May the government gave the private sector the right to alter employee contracts without legal liability due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies forced workers to take a combination of unpaid leave, decreased salaries, or premature contract terminations, negatively affecting tens of thousands of workers. In June the Ministry of Finance instructed government ministries, institutions, and state entities to reduce monthly costs for non-Qatari employees by 30 percent, by either cutting salaries or laying off workers with a two-month notice.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. International media and human rights organizations alleged numerous abuses against foreign workers, including withheld wages, unsafe working conditions, poor living accommodations, employers who routinely confiscated worker passports, and a sponsorship system that gave employers inordinate control of workers. In February, National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking statistics recorded the average fine for physical and psychological violence against domestic workers in 2019 as 2,000 Qatari riyals ($550) and a penalty of one month in prison. There were 812 convictions for abuse. During the year Amnesty International reported multiple cases of slow access to justice after three medium-sized companies refused to pay wages, withheld passports, and refused to appear in court. The ILO noted the law allows for the imposition of forced labor on those who hold political views ideologically opposed to the established political and social system.
The government made efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor but did not in all cases effectively enforce the law; the restrictive sponsorship system left some migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation. The law allows employees in the private sector to switch employers at the end of their contract, which can be up to five years, without the permission of their employer. Employees may also switch employers in cases of failure to pay, violation of contract, mutual agreement, filing of a legal case in court, and bankruptcy or death of employer. Legal changes during the year extended the elimination of exit visa requirements to 95 percent of government workers and all domestic workers. In August the country abolished restrictions on migrant workers changing jobs without their employer’s permission and introduced a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275) as a basic salary. While the abolishment of the no-objection certificate was effective immediately, the implementation of the minimum wage provision was scheduled to come into force in March 2021. If fully implemented, these laws will protect migrant workers, who are prone to exploitation in the kafala system.
Workers who are still required to seek their employers’ permission to leave the country may request an exemption from a Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs jointly operated grievance committee in case of the employers’ refusal to grant the permission.
In 2019 the government opened the first trafficking-in-persons shelter, which had assisted 10 victims as of July. On October 27, the Criminal Court sentenced two expatriates to a 10-year prison term, a substantial fine, and deportation for trafficking-in-persons offenses, among other crimes. This was the country’s first conviction since 2016 under its antitrafficking law.
The government arrested and prosecuted individuals for suspected labor law violations. The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, and the NHRC conducted training sessions and distributed to migrant laborers multilingual written explanations of their rights under local labor and sponsorship laws. To combat late and unpaid wages, the government mandated that employers pay wages electronically to all employees subject to the labor law through a system subject to audits by an inspection division at the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties, but enforcement was inconsistent.
There were continuing indications of forced labor, especially among migrant workers in the construction and domestic-labor sectors. Exorbitant recruitment fees incurred abroad entrapped many workers in long-term debt, making them more vulnerable to exploitation. Some foreign workers who voluntarily entered the country to work had their passports, ATM cards, and pay withheld and worked under conditions to which they had not agreed. One migrant worker told an NGO that his employer threatened him and nearly 1,000 other employees with deportation if they refused to sign new contracts with substantially lower wages. Another migrant worker said his company had not paid its workers in five months. Contract substitution remained a problem, according to representatives of the migrant worker community; however, to help eliminate the practice, a government electronic contracting system existed in several third countries where workers are hired. Embassies of labor-sending countries reported this new system helped significantly reduce contract substitution and the number of workers who arrived in Doha without contracts.
Although the country witnessed a nearly total precautionary lockdown of all official and commercial activities from mid-March until mid-June, FIFA World Cup-related facilities continued construction despite crowded worksites and the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Human rights groups and international media condemned the exemption of World Cup projects from the precautionary countermeasures.
The Ministry of Interior received 817 reports of nonpayment of wages, down from 1,164 in the year before, 810 of which were referred to the Office of the Public Prosecutor. Courts issued final verdicts in 495 cases; the rest were under review at year’s end.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 years and stipulates that minors between the ages of 16 and 18 may work with parental or guardian permission. The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. Minors may not work more than six hours a day or more than 36 hours a week. Employers must provide the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs with the names and occupations of their minor employees and obtain permission from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to hire a minor. The education ministry may prohibit the employment of minors in jobs judged dangerous to their health, safety, or morals. The government effectively enforced the applicable law, but penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, language, and religion, but not political opinion, national origin, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Local custom, however, outweighed government enforcement of nondiscrimination laws, and legal, cultural, and institutional discrimination existed against women, noncitizens, and foreign workers. The labor law does not allow women to work in jobs deemed hazardous, dangerous, or morally inappropriate.
By law women are entitled to equal pay for equal work, but this did not always happen, and they often lacked access to decision-making positions in management of private companies and in the public sector. Gender-based violence or harassment occurred in the workplace. In 2019 there were reports of rape, but the outcomes of those cases were pending. The government prohibited lower-paid male workers from residing in specific “family” residential zones throughout the country. The government discriminated against noncitizens in employment, education, housing, and health services (see section 6). Other forms of discrimination targeted certain nationalities in the country. In January the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs gave orders to all private security companies to terminate immediately security guards with Egyptian nationality, causing hundreds of Egyptian residents to lose their jobs. Egyptian residents also reported discrimination in denial of the right to transfer employment, apply for bank loans, and request family visas.
The law requires reserving 2 percent of jobs in government agencies and public institutions for persons with disabilities, and most government entities appeared to conform to this law. Private-sector businesses employing a minimum of 25 persons are also required to hire persons with disabilities as 2 percent of their staff. Employers who violate these employment provisions are subject to moderate fines. There were no reports of violations of the hiring quota requirement during the year.
In December 2019 the UN rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance highlighted the “remarkable and commendable progress” the country had made to end discrimination but raised concerns regarding discrimination against domestic workers and workers from South Asian and sub-Saharan African countries.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The labor law provides for a 48-hour workweek with a 24-hour rest period and paid annual leave days. The government sets occupational health and safety standards including restrictions on working during the hottest hours of the day during the summer and general restrictions related to temperature during the rest of the day as well. The labor law and provisions for acceptable conditions of work, including overtime pay provisions, do not apply to workers in the public sector or agriculture, or to domestic workers.
Responsibility for laws related to acceptable conditions of work fell primarily to the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs as well as to the Ministry of Municipality and Environment and the Ministry of Public Health. The government did not effectively enforce standards in all sectors; working conditions for citizens were generally adequate, because government agencies and the major private-sector companies employing them generally followed the relevant laws. Enforcement problems were in part due to insufficient training and lack of personnel. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous violations of civil rights.
The government took limited action to prevent violations and improve working conditions. In 2018 the worker dispute settlement committees assumed their duties, chaired by first-instance judges appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council and members of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. In 2019 the committees received a total of 4,922 complaints and issued final 2,781 final verdicts, up from 1,088 in 2018. More than three-quarters of verdicts favored workers.
The Labor Inspection Department conducted monthly and random inspections of foreign worker camps. When inspectors found the camps to be below minimum standards, the operators received a warning, and authorities ordered them to remedy the violations within one month. For example, after inspectors reportedly checked companies’ payrolls and health and safety practices, they returned one month later to verify any recommended changes were made. If a company had not remedied the violations, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs imposed fines, blacklisted the company, and on occasion referred the matter to the public prosecutor for action. Inspections in 2019 fell by nearly half compared with 2018; inspections in 2020 were further limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fear of penalties such as blacklisting appeared to have had some effect as a deterrent to some labor law violations. Blacklisting is an administrative hold on a company or individual that freezes government services such as processing new visa applications from the firms. Firms must pay moderate fine to be removed from the list–even if the dispute is resolved–and the ministry reserves the right to keep companies on the list after the fine is paid as a punitive measure.
The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs inspectors continued to conduct inspection visits to work and labor housing sites. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Officials from the ILO joined labor inspectors on several inspections and assisted in the formation of a new strategic plan for strengthening the Labor Inspections Unit. Violators faced penalties that were insufficient to deter violations.
Employers must pay their employees electronically to provide a digital audit trail for the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties. By law employees have a right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively provide protection to employees exercising this right. Employers often ignored working-hour restrictions and other laws with respect to domestic workers and unskilled laborers, the majority of whom were foreigners.
The government did not effectively enforce these laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes. Violations of wage, overtime, and safety and health standards were relatively common, especially in sectors employing foreign workers, in which working conditions were often poor. Some employers did not pay workers for overtime or annual leave. Employers housed many unskilled foreign laborers in cramped, dirty, and hazardous conditions, often without running water, electricity, or adequate food. The government continued to serve eviction notices to property owners whose buildings were not up to code. Throughout the year international media alleged some abusive working conditions existed, including work-related deaths of young foreign workers, especially in the construction sector. A Kenyan worker said his employer required him to work unpaid overtime, seven days a week, paid wages months late, and provided insufficient personal protective equipment despite a risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. Many such workers frequently worked seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day with few or no holidays, no overtime pay, and limited means to redress grievances. Some employers denied domestic workers food or access to a telephone, according to news reports and foreign embassy officials.
International NGOs found that foreign workers faced legal obstacles and lengthy legal processes that prevented them from seeking redress for violations and exploitative conditions. Noncitizen community leaders also highlighted migrant workers’ continued hesitation to report their plight due to fear of reprisals. On June 11, Amnesty International reported that a contracting company constructing the World Cup 2022 al-Bayt Stadium failed to pay the salaries of hundreds of its workers for seven months. On August 24, Human Rights Watch published testimonies of 93 foreign workers who alleged nonpayment of wages, forced labor, manipulation, or fraud.
On October 4, both the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs published the National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health, which aims to prevent accidents, injuries, and diseases arising out of, linked with, or occurring in the course of work. In March the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body responsible for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, announced that nine laborers working on the World Cup facilities died in 2019, bringing the number of deaths on World Cup projects to 34, since construction began six years ago. According to the committee, 31 of the deaths were classified as “nonwork related.”