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Workers in the Middle East and North Aftrica continue to face exploitation

There were some positive developments at a legislative level in Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with respect to migrant and/or domestic workers, but workers in these and other countries continued to face exploitation according to Amnesty International's recent report on human rights in the Middle East and North Africa which to some extent also covers workers' rights.

The right to work and organize in trade unions was undermined in a number of countries, according to Amnesty International. In Iran, thousands of workers staged peaceful demonstrations and strikes in protest at unpaid wages, poor working conditions and other grievances. Authorities arrested hundreds of peaceful protesters and strikers, sentencing many to prison terms and flogging. Bans on independent trade unions persisted.

In Egypt, the authorities forcibly dispersed strikes and held trade unionists in prolonged pre-trial detention. They also removed the names of hundreds of outspoken, independent candidates from ballot papers for elections for leadership roles in independent and state labour unions.

In Morocco, the parliament passed a new law on domestic workers, entitling domestic workers to written contracts, maximum working hours, guaranteed days off, paid vacations and a specified minimum wage. Despite these gains, the new law still offered less protection to domestic workers than the Moroccan Labour Code, which does not refer to domestic workers.

In Qatar, a new law partially removed the exit permit requirement, allowing the vast majority of migrant workers covered by the Labour Law to leave the country without seeking their employers’ permission. However, the law retained some exceptions, including the ability of employers to request exit permits for up to 5% of their workforce. Exit permits were still required for employees who fell outside the remit of the Labour Law, including over 174,000 domestic workers in Qatar and all those working in government entities.

In the United Arab Emirates, the authorities introduced several labour reforms likely to be of particular benefit to migrant workers, including a decision to allow some workers to work for multiple employers, tighter regulation of recruitment processes for domestic workers and a new low-cost insurance policy that protected private sector employees’ workplace benefits in the event of job loss, redundancy or an employer’s bankruptcy.

In Libya refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants were kept in appalling conditions, subjected to forced labour, torture and other ill-treatment.

Demonstration in support of protesting steel workers by their families in the city of Ahvaz, Iran, in December 2018. The placards read: “We are the children of workers. We stand alongside them.” © Iranian Labour News Agency


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