GENEVA - Qatar's labour minister was on Monday appointed without a vote to head the International Labour Organization's annual decision-making conference, despite union criticism amid concerns over labour conditions in Qatar.
Asian and Pacific nations, which according to a regional rotation had dibs this year on selecting the president of the two-week International Labour Conference, had proposed Ali Bin Samikh Al-Marri.
Usually, such picks are approved by acclamation, but this year, some unions had called for a vote, deeming that concerns around labour 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 that a deal had been reached and it could accept the appointment without calling for a vote.
Qatar has long faced harsh criticism over labour rights, especially in the lead-up to last year's football World Cup.
The country's treatment of migrant labourers 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.
- 'Serious doubts' -
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 continue 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.
In a letter sent to its 338 affiliate national organisations, representing 200 million workers, the International Trade Union Confederation acting general secretary Luc Triangle said a meeting had been held on June 3 with Al-Marri and that another would follow by late July.
"It was recognised that, while progress had been made which was an example to other countries in the region, more was needed to ensure decent work for migrant workers in Qatar," he said.
Among other things, he called for "the guaranteed right to operate and act by all global unions in Qatar."