Qatar’s Advisory Council reviews potential kafala changes
More than a year after Qatar authorities pledged to make it easier for expats to change jobs and leave the country, a draft law amending existing legislation has been presented to the Advisory (Shura) Council.
According to QNA, the council, which typically approves legislative changes before the Emir signs off on them, reviewed the draft this afternoon and decided to refer it to a committee for further study.
The news agency said the Internal and External Affairs Committee is expected to submit a report back to the council, but did not specify a timetable for this.
Qatar’s kafala sponsorship system has been widely blamed for enabling the abuse of expats at the hands of unscrupulous employers.
Currently, Law No. 4 of 2009 Regarding Regulation of the Expatriates Entry, Departure, Residence and Sponsorship requires foreigners to seek permission from their sponsors to leave the country – even on vacation – and to change jobs.
Last May, officials from the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs held a highly anticipated press conference to announce what was billed as “wide-ranging labor market reforms.”
This included a pledge to shift the exit permit process to an automated system run by the Ministry of Interior.
Theoretically, this would make it harder for an employer to stop someone from leaving Qatar because he would have to present an argument to a government committee about why the person should be detained.
Officials have also said they plan to relax the no-objection certificate (NOC) requirement that expats currently need to change jobs.
Currently, individuals must leave Qatar for two years before taking another job if their employer does not grant them an NOC.
Under the government’s new proposal, employees who sign a fixed-term contract would be free to transfer to a new employer at the end of their contract.
However, those who sign an indefinite contract would have to work for their employer for five years before being allowed to change positions, unless they receive their sponsor’s permission.
The changes proposed last year fell short of the recommendations made by human rights activists as well as law firm DLA Piper, which the Qatar government hired to investigate the living and working conditions of the country’s blue-collar workforce.
After more than a year of debate and discussion, it’s not clear what amendments are actually contained in the new legislation. Officials cautioned last year that what was publicly presented were only proposals and may be modified before being implemented.
Before introducing any changes, government officials wanted to consult with Qatar’s business community.
Several observers have speculated that this has been one reason for the delay in implementing the changes, even though the country’s Chamber of Commerce said last October that it was prepared to back the changes.
But discussions between the chamber and government officials appeared to continue on into the new year.
In January, the Peninsula reported that some business leaders wanted to restrict the ability of engineers and senior employees working on mega-developments such as Msheireb to change jobs midway through a project.
After initially suggesting that the changes could be introduced by the end of 2014, Qatar’s labor minister has most recently said that he’s “90 percent hopeful” the reforms will be in place by December of this year.