Qatar is moving “fast and smooth” to reform its labor laws and kafala sponsorship system to create the best working conditions for its expat residents, the nation’s Minister of Labor and Social Affairs has said.
But the substance of those change has become murkier for some following recent remarks made by Dr. Abdullah Salih Mubarak Al-Khulaifi.
Speaking about the upcoming labor reforms, the minister commented that the no objection certificates (NOCs) that expats need to switch jobs here, and the exit permits required to leave the country, would be governed by an employee’s contract with his employer. Without an NOC, an expat cannot work in Qatar for two years.
According to states news agency QNA, Al-Khulaifi, who was addressing an international labor conference in Geneva this week, said:
“The procedures of repealing the sponsorship law No. 4 of 2009, which regulates the entry and exit and residence of expatriates are running fast and smooth, HE the Minister said.
He added that ‘After the completion of the legislative procedures needed to process the repeal, the relationship between the workers and employers will be regulated, particularly with regard to exit permits and no objection certificate (NOC), as they will be contract based.’ “
Last month, ministry officials pledged to “provide more protection to the expat community” by shifting authority to issue exit permits from sponsors to the Ministry of the Interior.
The change would put the onus on employers to argue why an individual should not be allowed to leave the country – objections that would be reviewed by a special committee.
Officials also said employees who sign a fixed-term contract would be free to transfer to a new employer at the end of their contract. Those who have an indefinite contract would be able to switch jobs after five years.
However, Al-Khulaifi’s remarks imply that employers would not in fact be compelled to require NOCs or exit permits, if the contracts they sign with their employees do not specify such terms.
MOLSA was not immediately available to clarify its position.
But on social media, some expats have expressed concerns that the government is backtracking on reforms that many have already said don’t go far enough to safeguard their rights.
— Abhi Rian (@AbhiRian) June 5, 2014
— Boby (@Boby_BiQ) June 5, 2014
— AS (@amadshk) June 5, 2014
@dohanews might only be good for people who already have contracts and refuse to sign these amendments
— AS (@amadshk) June 5, 2014
On the other hand, many Qatari business owners have protested the proposed reforms, citing concerns about the stability of the economy and workforce.
Al-Khulaifi also referenced new plans that are in the works to require companies to pay employees by direct deposit, in a bid to ensure on-time payment. He said:
“Based on these amendments, companies will be obliged to transfer workers’ salaries to their local bank accounts or to their accounts at their home countries,” he said.
Additionally, labor inspectors are expected to be given more authority to enforce accommodation standards and worksite safety, the minister said. He added that the number of inspectors has been increased from 150 to 200 over the past three months.
Finally, he said Qatar is working with the International Labor Organization to come up with a cooperation program on training inspectors to resolve labor disputes and adhere to occupational health and safety standards.