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Qatar Labor Boss Heads ILO Conference

FILE: Ali bin Samikh Al Marri, Qatar's Minister of Labour, speaks with Greece's Eva Kaili, vice president of the European Parliament, during a meeting in Qatar, on October 31, 2022. Image: Twitter/Ministry of Labor - State of Qatar via REUTERS

GENEVA - Qatar's labor minister was on Monday appointed without a vote to head the International Labor Organization's annual decision-making conference, despite criticism from some unions amid concerns over labor conditions in Qatar.

Asian and Pacific nations, which according to a regional rotation had rights this year on selecting the president of the two-week International Labor Conference, had proposed Qatari minister Ali Bin Samikh Al-Marri.

Usually, such picks are approved by acclamation, but this year, some unions had called for a vote, deeming that continued concerns around labor conditions in Qatar raised questions about the suitability of having a Qatari minister in the post.

But the group representing unions and workers' interests within the ILO's tripartite system - alongside government and private sector employer groups - said Monday it could accept the appointment without calling for a vote.

This, despite Qatar long-facing harsh criticism over labor rights, especially in the lead-up to last year's football World Cup.

The country's treatment of migrant laborers came under particular scrutiny amid controversy over numerous deaths and injuries on mega construction projects.

Despite reforms, rights groups have said workers in Qatar continue to face exploitation and unsafe working conditions.

Union group head Catelene Passchier stressed that "Qatar has in recent years been the subject of scrutiny ... regarding the violations of fundamental rights of big numbers of migrant workers in the runup to the football World Cup."

The Dutch unionist acknowledged that the country had since engaged with the ILO "on fundamental reforms to its legal system" and had made "improvements on the ground."

But, she said, unions on the ground had continued to express "serious doubts" over Qatar's commitment to continuing implementing the reforms.

This had spurred "extensive conversations" in recent weeks and days, she said, resulting in a joint understanding that Qatar should speed up the implementation.

"We commend Qatar for stepping up its engagement with the ILO and the International trade union movement," she said, adding that the union group had accepted Al-Marri's nomination.

After his appointment, Al-Marri himself pointed out to the conference that his country had introduced a minimum wage and improved conditions for domestic workers.

"We know there is still work to be done, and we are committed to doing it," he said, stressing though that the social dialogue would need to be adapted to the "reality" in his country.