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Qatar Foundation is expected to lay off some 800 employees imminently, employees there have told Doha News.

The layoffs, which are apparently due to budgetary constraints, will apply “across the board” to QF staff based in Qatar.

This includes employees working in human resources, capital projects and other departments, people with knowledge of the layoffs said.

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While Hamad Bin Khalifa University staff would be included in this round of cuts, branch campuses of US universities and other schools in Education City will not be affected.

That’s because they operate independently and under pre-negotiated budgets with QF.

‘Increasing synergies’

When asked for comment about the layoffs, QF said in a statement to Doha News that it is working to improve efficiency and cut costs:

“Qatar Foundations’ focus of becoming a more efficient organization requires a culture of continuous improvement and, at this time, we are identifying ways to enhance our business operations in order to safeguard the future of our organization.

Therefore, as part of our enduring commitment to the sustainability of Qatar Foundation, we are working to drive our business forward, increasing synergies by enhancing collaboration across projects, as well as examining our existing operational costs.”

Speaking to Doha News, a former QF staffer said the layoffs should not come as a surprise to anyone, as the organization has been shedding staff and programs for some time.

QF Radio/Facebook

QF Radio

For example, last year QF Radio was taken off the air after a seven-year run.

The QF-backed Sidra Medical and Research Center also saw big layoffs at the end of 2015, though it is now planning a new hiring spree.

Other projects that have gotten the ax in recent years include the Doha Debates, a decade-long partnership with Rand Corp. and a tie-up with Bloomsbury Publishing.

Gazanfarulla Khan

Qela

The Qatar Luxury Group under QF, which launched homegrown fashion brand Qela in 2013, has also lost momentum.

“Whoever is still there should not be surprised by snow in January,” said the ex-staffer, in a turn of phrase not quite applicable to a desert country. “They were expecting it.”

Cost-cutting

The layoffs come amid a larger effort by the government and private companies in Qatar to operate on tighter budgets .

This has resulted in consolidation and job losses in many sectors, including oil and gas, health and transport.

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For its part, QF is expected to offer advance notice to employees who are laid off, as well as no objection certificates.

However, officials declined to provide any specific details about the upcoming terminations, saying:

“As a prominent Qatari organization, we understand the public interest for more information regarding the aforementioned changes.

However, our priority at this point is to communicate clearly with our employees, before addressing any external requests for information.”

QF is a massive non-profit that was founded by the Father Emir and his wife, chairperson Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, 22 years ago.

It is involved in countless educational and scientific endeavors.

This includes the upcoming Msheireb Downtown Doha project, the Arab Museum of Modern Art (Mathaf) and the Qatar National Research Fund.

Are you a staffer concerned about losing your job? Thoughts?

Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

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Qatar’s only alcohol store is urging customers to take advantage of lower prices while they can, before a new “selective” tax takes effect across the country.

The government is planning to implement a new “sin tax” on goods that are “harmful to human health and the environment,” as well as specific luxury items, officials previously said.

This includes fast food, soda, tobacco and alcohol.

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QDC

This week, employees at the Qatar Distribution Co. (QDC) in Abu Hamour have been warning customers that import taxes on spirits are set to double soon.

This will likely increase the cost of alcohol for customers, though it remains unclear by how much.

Many people have been expressing concerns about the impending tax, as prices at QDC for alcohol are already fairly steep.

Increased quotas

Only residents with alcohol licenses are allowed to shop at QDC, which is also the sole distributor of pork products in Qatar.

Each customer has a monthly allowance that is calculated as a percentage of their incomes.

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This week, QDC said in an unusual move that residents will be able to purchase three times their normal quota from April 1.

The alcohol quota usually only goes up before Ramadan, when QDC closes for the month. It also was doubled at the end of 2016 when the warehouse closed during the run-up to Eid Al Adha.

This year, the fasting month doesn’t begin until the end of May.

Meanwhile, hotels are also likely to be affected by increased taxes on alcohol.

However, none of the ones contacted by Doha News have responded to requests for comment yet.

New taxes

Qatar’s Cabinet approved a draft law governing new “selective” taxes last month.

Officials did not say when the law would be implemented.

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But the taxes are in accordance with a unified GCC agreement. And a Saudi finance minister previously said this could be introduced across the Gulf as early as April.

The GCC is also on track to introduce a separate, value-added tax in 2018.

That consumption tax will most likely affect businesses. It is expected to exempt certain food items, as well as the cost of education, healthcare and social services.

Thoughts?

Reem Saad / Doha News

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A UN agency has granted Qatar even more time to address allegations of “forced labor” before deciding whether the country should be sanctioned.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) decided yesterday to continue monitoring Qatar for human rights violations until November of this year.

When it convenes in eight months time, it will revisit whether to open a Commission of Inquiry, its highest investigative mechanism.

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According to those who attended this week’s meeting, about 18 governments weighed in on the decision.

Some of them, including the UAE and Sudan, two Qatar allies, urged the complaint to be dropped altogether, but were unsuccessful.

Pressure is on

The ILO has been investigating allegations by unions against Qatar since last year, and visited the nation to inspect working conditions for expats.

Last March, the UN agency decided to give Qatar a year to work on the issues at hand, as the country was in the middle of changing its laws.

Shabina S. Khatri / Doha News

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Authorities did implement some labor reforms in December. But they did not completely do away with the exit permit system or no objection certificate requirement to change jobs.

This has drawn the ire of many rights groups, including Amnesty International.

Speaking to Doha News yesterday, James Lynch, deputy director of Amnesty’s Global Issues Program, hailed the ILO’s decision. He said it would keep the pressure on Qatar, as “half-hearted reforms” are not enough.

He continued:

“Since the complaint was first brought in 2014, the government has done little to change the power imbalance between employers and migrant workers.

Between now and November, Qatar needs to tackle the fundamentals. It should start by genuinely abolishing the exit permit system so that employers have no right to interfere in a migrant worker’s ability to leave the country.”

Strides made

For its part, Qatar has not publicly commented on the ILO proceedings.

However, in a document it sent to the UN agency last month, officials outlined various pieces of legislation aimed at safeguarding workers.

Peter Kovessy / Doha News

Residents line up at a bank to open accounts ahead of the start of WPS in 2015.

This includes the new labor reforms, the Wage Protection System (WPS) and a draft law protecting house help.

It also pledged to increase the number of inspectors on construction sites, establish a complaint hotline for abused expats and conduct a study to gain insight into the conditions and sentiments of blue-collar workers in Qatar.

Thoughts?