Long working hours with no proper rest emerged as one of the most common forms of abuse experienced by domestic workers in Qatar. Image Credit: AP

Cairo: Migrant domestic workers in Qatar suffer from extreme overwork, lack of rest, and abusive treatment, a rights group said Tuesday.

Amnesty International revealed the abuses in a report based on interviews with 105 women who had been employed as live-in domestic workers in Qatar.

The watchdog found that their rights were still being abused and violated despite alleged government labour reforms. Some women said they had been victims of serious crimes such as sexual assault with impunity for the abusers.

Long working hours with no proper rest emerged as one of the most common forms of abuse experienced by domestic workers.

According to their contracts, domestic workers should work no more than 10 hours a day, six days a week. This is already higher than standards set out by the International Labour Organisation, but most women Amnesty spoke to were working far more than this.

Ninety of the 105 interviewed women said they regularly worked more than 14 hours per day; 89 regularly worked seven days a week; and 87 had their passport confiscated by their employers. Half of the women worked more than 18 hours per day, and most had never had a single day off at all. Some also reported not being paid properly, while 40 women described being insulted, slapped or spat at, Amnesty said. One woman said she was treated “like a dog”.

At least 23 women to whom the watchdog spoke said they were not given enough food and felt hungry during their employment in Qatar. Some women also described sleeping in cramped rooms, in some cases on the floor or without air conditioning.

Accounts of poor living conditions highlight the Qatari authorities’ failure to conduct workplace inspections, Amnesty said in a statement.

A 45-year-old Filipino woman described how she had a car accident because she had only had two hours sleep: “I went to sleep at 1am, and at 3am the 17-year-old daughter woke me up asking me to go and buy her a Red Bull. Then at 5.30am I started my usual working day, washing the car and preparing to drive the kids to school … at 10pm I crashed the car into the wall,” the woman was quoted as saying.

“The overall picture is of a system which continues to allow employers to treat domestic workers not as human beings but as possessions,” Steve Cockburn, the head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty, said.

“None of the women Amnesty spoke to has seen their abuser held to account for their actions. If Qatar wants to protect domestic workers from exploitation, it needs to send a strong message to employers that labour abuses are not tolerated, “he added.

There are around 173,000 foreign domestic workers in Qatar.