Thursday 26 March 2015, ILO
ILO – Governing Body, 323rd Session, Geneva 12-27 March 2015
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Statement by Ambassador Steffen Kongstad, Permanent Representative of Norway
Thank you, Chair.
1. Human rights are universal. No one should be deprived of his or her fundamental rights and freedoms. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of every state to promote and protect human rights and prevent all forms of discrimination and abuse.
2. Norway advocates the universal ratification and implementation of the eight ILO fundamental conventions. We believe that the compliance with these – including the Forced Labour Convention - and also Convention number 81 on Labour Inspection, is fundamental to justice, sustainable development and inclusive growth.
3. Norway finds the numerous and well-documented accounts of unacceptable working and living conditions among migrant workers in Qatar to be of grave concern. We are alarmed by the serious allegations of widespread use and persistent practices of exploitation and forced labour linked to the kafala sponsorship system.
4. Many migrants in the country find themselves in situations of forced labour on account of a number of factors such as contract substitution, restrictions on their freedom to leave their employment relationship or the country, the nonpayment of wages, and the threat of retaliation. We find the situation of women in domestic work in private households to be of particular concern.
5. The Government of Qatar should take the necessary measures to fulfil its obligation to suppress the use of forced labour in all its forms, in accordance with Article 1 of the Convention.
6. We call on the Government of Qatar to:
– review without delay the functioning of the sponsorship system;
– ensure without delay access to justice for migrant workers, so that they can effectively assert their rights; and
– ensure that adequate penalties are applied for violations.
7. We have taken note that a bill has been drafted to repeal the system of sponsorship and to replace it by work contracts. We trust that the new legislation on migrant workers will be enacted in the near future, and will be drafted in such a way as to protect them against any form of exploitation, tantamount to forced labour, and provide them with the full enjoyment of their rights at work. In particular, we urge the Government to eliminate any restrictions placed on the freedom of association rights of migrant workers.
8. In light of what has been outlined above, we consider it to be of utmost importance for Qatar to have in place a labour inspectorate equipped to provide effective enforcement. We acknowledge and welcome steps taken by the Government to address this issue. Yet, we remain concerned that the inspectorate is far from adequate to ensure compliance.
9. Finally, recognizing the pivotal role played by the ILO in developing, promoting and supervising international labour standards, Norway strongly encourages the Government of Qatar to step up its engagement and cooperation with the ILO, including providing full support to the anticipated high-level mission to the country.
10. To conclude, Norway supports the draft decision presented in paragraph 7 of the document, and we look forward to the report from the high level mission to be presented at the 324th Session of the Governing Body (June 2015).
Thank you, Chair.