LONDON: Amnesty International, in its latest assessment of conditions ‘on the ground’ in Qatar, has warned that the Gulf state authorities “risk falling behind on their promise to tackle widespread labour exploitation of thousands of migrant workers.”

In a new briefing, Reality Check: The state of migrant workers’ rights with less than four years to go until the Qatar 2022 World Cup”the organization examines Qatar’s high-profile reform process and reveals how much work the authorities still need to do to fully respect and protect the rights of around 2 million migrant workers.

Stephen Cockburn, AI’s deputy director of global issues, said: “Time is running out if the Qatari authorities want to deliver a legacy we can all cheer – namely a labour system that ends the abuse and misery inflicted upon so many migrant workers every day.

“The Qatari authorities have been taking some important steps to protect labour rights, but much more needs to be done. Holes in the reforms to date mean many workers are still stuck in harsh conditions, vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, while those who return home do so empty handed, with no compensation and no justice.”

Amnesty International is continuing to call on Qatar to fully abolish the kafala sponsorship system which it says, despite some recent changes, “continues to tie workers to unscrupulous employers for up to five years.”

In November 2017, Qatar signed an agreement with the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) to revise its laws in line with international labour standards.

Since then, the authorities have passed several pieces of legislation aimed at benefiting migrant workers, including introducing a temporary minimum wage, passing a law for domestic workers, setting up new committees to address labour disputes and establishing a workers’ support and insurance fund.

The reform programme follows stricter welfare standards introduced in 2014 for around 30.000 workers on Word Cup sites.

The authorities also ended the requirement for employees to obtain an “exit permit” requiring their employer’s permission to be able to leave the country for most migrant workers.

But, Amnesty says: “Limitations in some of the reforms introduced so far mean many migrant workers in Qatar are still at risk of forced labour, restrictions on their movement and other abuses.

“Under the kafala system, which remains firmly in place despite partial reforms, workers still cannot change jobs without their employers’ permission. They face criminalisation for ‘absconding’ and risk having their passports confiscated.”