Qatar shuts down 12 Kenyan recruitment agencies


A mother is overwhelmed by emotions as she narrates how her 34-year-old daughter was suffering in Saudi Arabia at the hands of her employer in this picture taken on October 6, 2020. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG

Qatar has shut down 12 Kenyan employment agencies following pressure from the government and trade unions to ensure better treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf States.

This revelation came during talks held on Sunday between Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) secretary-general Francis Atwoli and Qatar’s Labour minister, Ali bin Samikh Al Marri in Doha.

The recruitment offices that have been closed are Starch, Anand, Sunrise, Dubai, Frame, Al Adam, Absher, Al Methaq, Resala, Altaaon, and Althabat. These agencies can no longer engage in recruiting labour or concluding contracts with employers.

Qatari officials said the agencies had violated the law and that the operation was part of monitoring efforts to preserve the rights of employers of domestic workers.

Mr Atwoli also raised concerns about the working conditions of Kenyans in Qatar, urging the authorities there to protect the lives and welfare of the workers.

Mr Al Marri committed to ensuring that Kenyans, especially domestic workers, are safe, saying Qatar was closing down employment agencies that were used to sneak Kenyans into the Middle East.

“The minister noted that they are currently in the process of cancelling the operations of Kenyan-owned employment agencies. At least 12 licences have been cancelled so far,” Mr Atwoli said.  

Cotu recommended that the Kenyan government establish government-to-government relations with Qatar. This will ensure that the government and not agencies oversee negotiations on the terms and conditions of Kenyan workers in Qatar.

These measures to streamline the labour sector in the Gulf state come as Qatar has extended the probation period for domestic workers from three to nine months and set the maximum prices for the recruitment of domestic workers.

Inspection teams were created to investigate recruitment agencies and ensure that the new forms of employment contracts for domestic workers are implemented.

Several Kenyans working in Qatar have raised several grievances, ranging from poor remuneration, physical and emotional abuse and confiscation of their passports and travel documents by their employers.

In August 2018, dozens of Kenyans were stranded in Qatar for lack of travel documents and air tickets after falling out with their employers.

The Kenyans, most of them recruited by Mombasa-based agencies, said they were suffering in the Arab country after they protested against working conditions.

“Salary was our biggest issue. We were not being paid on time and sometimes we would work for four months without pay so we decided to boycott duty in 2017,” one of them said.

But the mistreatment of Kenyans is not confined to Qatar. Last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that 89 Kenyans, most of them domestic workers, died in Saudi Arabia in the previous two years. Interestingly, Riyadh told Nairobi that most of the deaths were from cardiac arrest.

Appearing before the National Assembly’s Labour Committee in September 2021, Foreign affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said all the Kenyan deaths in Saudi Arabia over the previous two years were suspicious.

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Also read: Kenya makes baby steps in protecting its migrant workers

“We have compared the deaths, so it's not possible that you have three deaths in Qatar, one in UAE, two in Kuwait, nine in Oman, two in Bahrain and you have 40-50 in the other country because the number may be larger but they are not that larger,” he said.

“It’s not possible that these young people are all dying of cardiac arrest.”