Hundreds lining up to open Qatar bank accounts as new law takes effect

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

Jidhu Jose

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

With reporting from Riham Sheble

Several hundred Qatar residents have been queuing up outside of banks – sometimes for up to 12 hours – to open accounts as the new wage protection system (WPS) comes into force.

The amendment to the country’s labor law, which was approved by the Emir in February, took effect yesterday. This means firms are now required to pay employee salaries through direct bank transfers.

The measure is aimed at making it easier for expats and the government to scrutinize and document any late or non-existing payments, one of the biggest complaints among blue-collar workers here.

The law also requires companies to pay employees at least monthly, in Qatari riyals.

Long queues

In Qatar, an expat’s sponsor must provide foreign residents with the paperwork that’s required to open a bank account.

Even though companies were given a six-month grace period to comply with the law – which was discussed by Qatar’s cabinet as far back as May 2014 – it appears many waited until the last minute.

A supervisor at a water bottling facility in Qatar said he only heard of the new rules in early October and started the process of completing the paperwork for the company’s employees within days.

The manager, who asked that neither his name or company name be published, suggested procrastination on the part of some companies was also to blame for this week’s rush:

“Everyone will be going at the last moment,” he said.

This week, several residents told Doha News that they spent more than 12 hours sitting outside a bank waiting to open a new account.

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

Peter Kovessy

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

Many banks have opened special departments to handle the influx of customers, and some allocated specific branches that people should go to so as to not crowd out others using the bank.

For example, workers who were told by their employers to open their accounts at Qatar International Islamic Bank (QIIB) had to go to Barwa Village or its branch on Salwa Road.

Security guards estimated that approximately 200 new customers were at the Barwa Village branch on Sunday. On Monday, an additional 180 people showed up at the branch, security said.

One man from the Philippines said he arrived at 3:30am on Monday morning and found that there were already 70 people, many of whom were lying on the ground, ahead of him.

“Why don’t they designate more branches (to process applications)?” he asked.

A man from Sri Lanka said a company bus brought employees to the bank at 2am, but would not return for them until 4pm.

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

Peter Kovessy / Doha News

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

He did, however, say that he expected that his company would pay his salary for that day.

Media reports say other residents were not so lucky.

Last month, the Qatar Tribune quoted one man who said his company would not give him any time off to open a bank account, which forced him to spend the night outside the bank so he could be one of the first people inside when it opened before rushing to work.

A manager of the Barwa Village QIIB said he could not officially comment and directed Doha News to QIIB’s head office. Efforts to reach a bank spokesperson were unsuccessful.

Lots of customers

Some 50,000 companies are expected to be part of Qatar’s WPS.

Though banks have had several months to sort out the new WPS, the sheer number of people who need new accounts may be slowing down the process.

Researchers have previously estimated that Qatar is home to some 700,000 low-income expats working in unskilled or semi-skilled positions.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Anthony/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A large number of these foreign residents were traditionally paid in cash, although some companies – such as construction firm UCC – said they’ve paid employees through local bank accounts for several years.

In a circular sent to banks in early August, the Qatar Central Bank (QCB) said that all new accounts set up under WPS should be processed through a separate system that it has established.

Additionally, it set out separate rules including a cap of a QR10 fee for sending money out of the country.

In a separate circular, QCB warned banks against taking a commission from workers’ salaries under the WPS, which it “considered a violation” of its instructions.

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