Changes to Qatar’s controversial kafala sponsorship system could be introduced as early as next week, according to report by international law firm DLA Piper examining working and living conditions for low-income expats here.
The 139-page report, “Migrant labour in the construction sector in the State of Qatar,“ was commissioned by the government last fall to examine the state of affairs of Qatar’s growing blue-collar workforce, following intense media coverage of various abuses.
Many rights groups have been leveraging the fact that Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup as a way of keeping pressure on the government to implement reforms.
The report was issued to the government at the beginning of May and released publicly this week by NGO Engineers Against Poverty, which has posted it in full on its website (and is embedded below).
The document is not groundbreaking, in that it reads like many other reports published in recent years by human rights groups who have studied labor conditions in Qatar.
It echoes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, among others, in calling for major reforms in Qatar. However, several of DLA Piper’s recommendations, including allowing expats to organize into unions and setting a minimum wage, have already been discussed and dismissed by officials here.
Still, because the report was commissioned by the government, it is unclear what kind of an impact it will have on reform.
The detailed dossier references Qatar’s recent proposals to change its sponsorship system, which were announced in a highly-publicized press conference run by the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs earlier this month.
The ministries’ key recommendations included refining the exit permit system – though not abolishing it, as many had hoped – and changes to the no objection certificate that would theoretically make it easier for an expat to switch jobs.
At the time of the announcement, it was made clear that these proposals were a first step and still had a long way to go before they could become law, as they had to be circulated to the Chamber of Commerce and approved by the Advisory (Shura) Council.
However, the DLA Piper report suggests that legislation could be introduced much sooner that expected. In a section in the middle of the report discussing the government’s proposed system changes, the document states:
“This reform was submitted to the Council of Ministers on 9 April 2014 and will be effective by the end of May 2014.”
The report also made a number of its own recommendations for reform, calling for “increased transparency and communication between the State of Qatar, State of Origin governments, and major actors in public and private sectors,” which it describes as critical before implementing any changes.
Proposed changes include:
- Phasing out of the exit visa system;
- Increasing enforcement against employers holding workers’ passports (which is illegal under Qatar’s labor law), and imposing tougher penalties on repeat offenders, including heavy fines and blacklisting for the worst perpetrators; and
- Doing away with the NOC requirement for employees of sponsors who are found to have abused the system.
DLA Piper also recommended that Qatar help tackle recruitment fees paid by many of Qatar’s migrant workers before coming here. Agents often charge thousands of dollars to secure work for migrants, putting these expats heavily in debt before they even arrive to Doha.
While it is illegal to collect recruitment fees inside Qatar, many workers’ own countries permit this practice. DLA Piper notes this can “amount to a serious abuse of power which requires prompt attention.”
It called on Qatar to:
- Take a “robust stance” and stop using agencies that charge recruitment fees;
- Establish clearer complaints procedures for workers against their employers;
- Set up a fast-track procedure for major complaints;
- Establish workers’ welfare standards;
- Create a standard form of migrant worker employment contract for use by all public bodies carrying out construction works, to be monitored by the Ministry of Labor. These contracts should be translated into a language the worker understands and the details fully explained to them; and
- Blacklist contractors and employers who breach health and safety standards.
It also called for the reporting and publishing every six months of statistics for work-related injuries and deaths, and to establish an independent, three-year study into migrant worker deaths from cardiac arrest.
Moreover, it recommended the law on post-mortems be amended to allow for examinations in cases of sudden or unexplained deaths.
It also advised that workers be given freedom of association through trade unions, and be given rights of representation and be permitted collective bargaining – a right currently only afforded to Qataris.
The report recommends introducing a minimum wage and setting a relevant rate for each level of construction worker. This should be detailed in the new workers’ contract and be legally binding on all construction sector employers in Qatar.
It also advises that all workers should be paid electronically by bank transfer, and this should be monitored by the Qatar Central Bank.
The Cabinet announced in early May that it planned to implement this type of electronic system.
DLA Piper also called for improved workers’ access to justice by abolishing court fees when filing labor court cases. Additionally, it suggested the introduction of “an independent monitoring and reporting body” such as the National Human Rights Committee to conduct an ongoing review of the recommended reforms.
Business leaders’ opposition
While many expats have expressed disappointment with Qatar’s proposed kafala changes, saying they don’t go far enough, several Qatari business leaders have taken the opposite view. They argue that loosening the exit permit system and NOC requirements could adversely affect the country’s economy.
Yesterday, The Peninsula reported that top businessmen and senior officials from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs met earlier this week.
The paper quotes prominent businessman, Ali Al Khalaf, who took part in the meeting, as having told local Arabic daily Al Arab:
“I said that if implemented, the changed system would create confusion in the business community. The changes will have a negative impact on businesses and the national economy.”
Here’s the full report:
Changes to Include.
A new name that sounds better than kafala
A new shiny book to contain all the, ahem, changes
Full enforcement of the huge changes holding employers to account. (Using the same techniques as our successful 20 year campaign to enforce traffic rules and reduce deaths on the roads)
A letter to the international community to explain we are a young country and we are moving as fast as we can
My personal favorite part of this whole discussion is the way “top businessmen” articulate their objections to the possibility of reform.
“confusion” and “negative impact on the ecpnomy”… Always using generic bulls**t terms without ever citing specifics or details.
businessmen should have a mindset change…else it will be very difficult to have a good relationship between sponsor and employees
These changes should not only protect the Employers but the Employees as well…….
so soon? I can not believe this…but these changes are necessary for Qatar to stay competitive.
I find it weird that they want to go ahead with the changes announced last week. Many people inside and outside Qatar voiced their concerns regarding these changes, and most agree that they are not enough to ensure a fair and humane treatment of employees. I am afraid this will send a disturbing message to everyone that Qatar does not care that much about their opinions, which is really sad.
It is not also the kind of moves that would halt annoying international interference and lower the “aggressive” tone of international criticism.
Yeah……where are the other comments?
I think you meant to title this: ‘Renaming of kafala expected as early as next week’
That’s all the changes were, the same restrictions as Kafala, packaged in brand new shiny shackles.
More comments on comments have disappeared, is Doha news the Bermuda Triangle for free speech??
Hello – someone appears to be ‘flagging’ lots of posts, and we’re having to manually approve them as a result. I’ve just approved a batch – hope they’ve all reappeared now!
How about those outsource recruiting companies ,I work in bank ,the bank paid me more than 15k but the recruiting company takes almost half of my salary every month ,I am a married man but can’t bring my family due to the outsource company is taking more than half of my salary .is there any new law reqarding those outsource company .
Looks to me that you are getting squeezed…..why are they taking your half a month’s salary for every month? How long have you been doing this? Even if they have a fee, isn’t this supposed to be a one time payment?
Outsource companies make a contract with different type of project like banks ,restaurants ….and so on but ur under their sponser (outsourced company )they move u from project to another project the main point is the client pay enough amount of money to the outsource company and they pay u half of it every month.
LIke football clubs leasing their players to other clubs. I thought this could be done with the labourers, didn’t know this could be done with medium or high level posts. Is this legal in Qatar? Maybe you can subcontract the work….
even if u want to transfer to other company they will not offer you NOC .if the new company that u want is competitive to them or the same place ur working in cuz that’s what mentioned on the contract and I have signed on it there is nothing I can do unless I move on to company that got nothing related to my 5yr of experience and I don’t want to do that .
I am not blaming Qatar but those companies playing with the rules and law of Qatar.
Yes…unless Qatar changes the labor law you will not be able to transfer your employment. If one does require a positive change, it is highly advised to look for employment in the other GCC countries….
Although theses changes are perhaps a start, they do not go anywhere near enough solving the issues at hand. Seriously, abolish the Kafala system, because there is no sense behind applying for an exit permit, and there’s no sense behind asking permission to switch jobs. The way I see it, an individual has the right to quit his/her job if they don’t want it… That’s not exactly revolutionary. Secondly, a charity fund should be set up to help victims of human trafficking who are unable to leave the country. The money should provide them with a ticket back home if they wanted it, or any other assistance.
Abolishing the kafala is not a revolutionary demand. I just can’t understand why people are treating it as such.
Still wondering how the new exit permit will affect multiple exit permit. (If at all)
Now you see ’em, now you don’t? Comments that is?
Been wondering that too !!! Censorship or a bug in the system ??? Story indicates 15 comments, but then click on show comments and only 9 appear.
I thought that it was just my computer getting confused about how many comments have been left of these threads.
Censorship by the back door…..
This report is still in favor of Employers… there is nuttin in here that suggests that the whole workforce in Qatar is subject to change. Why did they concentrate on just the laborers?? What about the rest of the migrant workforce here??? Also, the migrant workforce here in Qatar is not “A Temporary” workforce when you have expats living here for the past 10 – 40 yrs… No time in the future will these people not be needed as Qatar doesn’t have enough of a population to fulfill each and every job in this country and I can’t see Qatari’s becoming tea boys, petrol attendants, shop assistants, concierge, etc etc.. So again, DLA Piper had an opportunity to expose the truth here in Qatar but didn’t go far enough with their report. Such a shame that money can prevent the truth..
“Confusion in the business community”? Changing and implementing legislation so as to ensure human rights is confusing?
The whole DLA report itself does not address the complete issues including NOC for transferring between jobs. They specify NOC related to disputes by the employer only. Not to mention, only workers. What about the other people working in different offices etc?
I think the NOC is a minor issue, it only interests the people on here as they want to jump ship for more money. Most are free to leave if it bothers you that much.
More importantly is the exit permit issue to avoid people being trapped in the country or deliberatley prevented from leaving by their employers as happened in the football players case recently. Also the treatment of low income workers and the stamping out of abuse by sponsors and recruitment companies is a priority issue.
Why have my comments been removed? Censorship or technology failure? I said nothing offensive in any way, shape or form.
whatever the changes are, we hope that it will take effect ASAP.