Over the past few months, government officials in Qatar are using proposed changes to the country’s labor law as a response to criticism of the country’s human rights record, even though the plans sidestep many key issues raised by observers.
In the last week alone, at least three high-ranking government officials have discussed the upcoming changes while making speeches at international forums that have directly and indirectly noted the abuse of migrant workers in Qatar.
Such cases have been well documented by groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Those groups argue that the country’s laws and inadequate enforcement mechanisms enable the maltreatment of migrant workers at the hands of their employers, who are just as likely to be expats themselves.
Last month, local government officials proposed changes to the country’s labor laws in an effort to provide more protection to foreign workers. These include:
- Loosening restrictions on changing jobs;
- Shifting the authority to issue exit permits from sponsors to the Ministry of Interior;
- Raising fines for confiscating passports;
- Unspecified improvements to living conditions; and
- Mandating electronic payment of wages to ensure workers are being remunerated, among other measures.
No timeline has been announced to actually implement the proposals, which many human rights observers and local expats have criticized as inadequate.
But at a recent meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, two Qatari officials rehashed the proposal in response to comments made by François Crépeau, a special rapporteur who visited the Gulf country last year and formally tabled his findings in April.
“There is no doubt these developments reflect the serious will of the government to improve the conditions of work,” Ali bin Sumaikh al-Marri, the head of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee. “We hope to see on-the-ground improvement in the rights of citizens and residents.”
The proposals do address some of Crépeau’s concerns, such as non-payment of wages, living conditions and passport confiscation. While Crépeau did say he “welcomed” the news that Qatar is looking into reforming its sponsorship system, he raised many issues that have yet to be directly tackled by the government, such as:
- Illegal recruitment fees paid by migrants in their home countries that put them in debt prior to arriving in Qatar;
- Migrants assigned to work lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs than what they agreed to in their home country;
- Abuse of domestic workers; and
- A prohibition that prevents expats from organizing into unions and collectively bargaining.
The discrepancy between Crépeau’s comments and Qatar’s proposed changes was not raised at last week’s hearing.
Also speaking at the UN, Sheikh Khaled bin Jassim Al Thani – the director of human rights department at Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs – thanked the special rapporteur for his visit and report without mentioning any of its contents, beyond saying the government agreed with Crépeau that labor-sending countries have a role to play in protecting the rights of their citizens who travel abroad for work.
Al Thani continued:
“The protection and promotion of human rights, including the rights of expatriate workers is a strategic choice for the state of Qatar. Indeed, Qatar values expatriate workers’ contribution and considers them real partners in its development.”
Several days after the conference, the Qatar Red Crescent hosted a three-day, “Doha Dialogue on Migration” workshop and seminar, attracting dozens of delegates from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent.
The forum had a global, humanitarian focus on improving the dignity of migrant workers and acknowledged there are problems in the region.
“Of course, the Gulf areas have certain challenges. We have a huge population (and a) big number of expat workers,” said Dr. Mohammed bin Ghanem Al-Ali Al-Maadheed, the president of the Qatar Red Crescent, during a speech.
In an interview, Al-Maadheed conceded that kafala can present a problem, but said improving the lives of migrants is a much broader issue that goes beyond the country’s sponsorship laws.
However, other local speakers returned to the topic.
The session’s moderator called Qatar “a model” for its proposed legislation and then introduced Dr. Abdullah Salah Al Khelifi, the country’s minister of labor and social affairs.
He spoke of the country’s “desire to protect rights of workers and their livelihood” before outlining the proposed changes to Qatar’s sponsorship laws.
Later in the day, delegates heard from Nayef Al-Shammari, a legal specialist with Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee. He too went over the proposed legislative changes, telling the audience that the UN’s Crépeau had commended the government’s measures.
“Illegal recruitment fees paid by migrants in their home countries that put them in debt prior to arriving in Qatar;
Migrants assigned to work lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs than what they agreed to in their home country”
so we have to take responsibility for what their own country puts them through as well….fantastic
Yes, you do. Because it was your Labor Law that bans the payment of recruitment fees, and your Ministry that promised the UNHCR to crack down on the practice, and the local 2022 Organizing Committee that is committed to an “ethical recruitment” process. You can’t just make laws and make promises and then not enforce them… That just looks like you don’t mean it.
And don’t worry, if the idea of hiring of expats ethically gets to annoying or too time consuming, you could always just recruit Qataris to build the infrastructure.
Fair enough, I guess we can ban agencies that provide false promises to workers in there own countries. Ofcourse that will need co-operation from there countries of origin. Out of curiosity since it is our responsibility to look out for the well being of workers before they come into the country do you think that should apply to all nations? Should western countries stop working with companies that take advantage of workers in there own nations of origin maybe sanction manufactures that use cheap child labour in China or india
Yes they should.
Yes, all countries can and should do better
Yes of course.
Without any doubt. There is a big push in Europe and the US for the ethical sourcing and manufacture of products. The media will often “out” a company that is using child labour or other unethical practices resulting in a public backlash and loss of sales. Sadly we cannot get them all.
And to me there is something to be said about a country of people that would accept this behavior and turn a blind eye and just say well the country that they came from should take care of them. The way I see it. Qatar rules under Islamic law. This is religious law. I dont know of any religion besides a Satanic religion that would advocate the maltreatment of other humans. Qatar has new money and new responsibility. If you take your money and religion serious then you must accept your responsibility and take the ethical treatment of other seriously. Qatar is in a position to demand that these other countries follow a process in regards to their relationship with Qatar. I cant see why we have to have this conversation. Are you telling me that you and your country are vile and nasty people? No! You are better than that and you must work to show it.
Firstly let me clarify im not saying “hay there countries treat them badly anyway so screw it” it’s not my intention to not help them either. Simply pointing out that any endeavour without co-operation from there home countries would be difficult and probably have limited success. Secondly yes we can request they meet certain conditions and obligations to there people before we employ any of them, but those countries will always have a demand for workers from other gcc nations and instead of simply adhering to our requests they will simply send the workers to Saudi or uae. If that happens we would have failed to make any significant changes to help the workers and we would loose the bulk of our work force.
I’m sure we can try and will try to improve things but I think we will have very limited success without the support of others in the region. I must say I envy western nations for how well they can work together compared to us
Ps: im agnostic but agree with you just from a humanitarian perspective
I can prove that I paid for my medical checkup in QATAR when I arrived for the first time.. I have my credit card bills for that … Isn’t that my employer should be paying ? ofcourse 100 Riyal is nothing for me an even for my employer.. Its all about the attitude dude…You don’t need to “take care of them” while they are on their motherland… no one can stop them or exploit them there unless they are willing to be exploited in their countries . However, here you threaten them saying that “you signed on a piece of toilet paper ..So you have to abide by our 17th century laws…”
” just recruit Qataris to build the infrastructure” And you do the same back home 😉
Exactly. Indians don’t hire Qataris to build their infrastructure.
“improving the lives of migrants is a much broader issue that goes beyond the country’s sponsorship laws”. Nope. The Kafala deliberately and knowingly facilitates the exploitation of migrants by all employers. Anything less than it’s abolition is a hollow gesture. Giving exit permit responsibility to the MOI and the change to the NOC rule actually achieve nothing.
I was told by my employer that I will be releasing as soon as I have finished my two years contract. But after completion of 3.7 years, I didn’t get it. I went to get the labor court to seek for the help as I got married in Qatar and cant left my wife alone but they were too helpless as the power is under the sponsor not the court….
there is no justifyable reason why a man who is not a criminal should not leave Qatar to go to his own country without any permissions FULL STOP – it that causes a disagrement with his employer he risks being jobless etc, if he legitimately owes money pursue though the courts etc
Charter of Human Rights anyone….freedom of movement?
Am I free to move to other countries, even if I don’t get a visa 😉
However, I must say that the exist permit is something that doesn’t really seem to serve any real useful purpose, and should just go away.
Yes very good perspective that I actually hadn’t though about, thankyou. As far as exit permits, just get rid of it and get rid of the critics, hopefully.
Then if its gone away… How do you think they can rub it on the wrong side …???
To be frank, it is time to move on and abolish the Kafala system, anything short will be to the determinant of Qatar’s future. Plain and simple.
The quick solution would be to allow people to unionise and strike. We all know that it wont be allowed as the country would stop moving overnight but it would speed up the improvement process. Sometimes one has to slow down to go faster.
‘Qatar sells kafala reforms to critics’. Surely in order to sell something, someone else has to buy it.
Here the situation is the seller “pays” as well… and not the buyer…. 😉
mostly employers will only use the labor law for them to only benefit and when times comes to be used by employees they will say that “i don’t care about the government”
re branding, same old brand new system….
Point No1 : The New Propsed Changes to this bull***t law will make the plight of migrant laborer even more difficult
NOC will be given after 5 years which will make the laborers locked for straight 5 years .
Exit Permit will have another hurdle of ministry also now … Good luck migrants .. They will enjoy with your life(for other places.. I would say … enjoy your life )
Are you sure Qatar values expatriate workers? That’s BS!!!
What is happening in Qatar is a shame to Islamic principles, a shame to Human rights and a shame to anyone with a bit of consciousness. I think someone who mistreats a human being can be called nothing else than heartless, conscious less and without any kind of moral principles. Qatari sponsors should start assuming responsibility and stop lying to themselves thinking they are good leaders treating people the way they do because they have to choice. Making fortune on people’s sorrow and misery is your fastest road to hell. Wake up!