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More than a dozen men wait to use the ATMs at City Center Mall.

Shabina S. Khatri

More than a dozen men wait to use the ATMs at City Center Mall.

It’s been a month since Qatar began requiring companies to pay their employees through an electronic bank transfer.

Known formally as the country’s wage protection system, the measure is intended to make 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.

Indeed, this week marked the first time many laborers received their salaries without delay, and not in cash, a move rights groups have applauded.

But what do those directly affected by the new system think of it?

On Tuesday – the first day of December – a crowd of men were waiting to access their money via an ATM near an Al Meera store in Najma. Doha News asked them for their thoughts.

Wariness

Because many workers have never used an ATM before, some treated it warily.

Sajid Khan for example said he was suspicious of banks and after a friend showed him how to use the machine, he drained his account.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Speaking to Doha News, he said that the bank would be unable to steal from him if he immediately withdrew his salary.

Meanwhile, several others lined up at the ATM simply to see if money had been deposited in their accounts.

This included Jangan Sharma and three of his colleagues, who left empty handed after checking their balances. However, Sharma said he was hopeful that he would be paid later in the day.

Others, such as Aftab Ali, said they received their full salary. This was welcome news for Ali, who said he came to Qatar from Bangladesh five years ago to work as an air conditioning technician.

The expat added that he was promised a monthly salary of approximately QR4,500, but his pay turned out to be half that. Additionally, Ali said the amount he is paid has fluctuated from month to month and that he didn’t always receive his salary on time.

This made it hard to pay rent on time, or send money back home, he said. However, this time he received his salary on Dec. 1 and he said he hopes he’ll continue to be paid in full on the first day of each month.

Hiccups

Even though employers and government officials had nine months to prepare for the WPS after the measure was officially signed into law, there have been stumbling blocks to implementing the system.

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.

This includes long lineups outside some bank branches last month as expats, who required specific paperwork from their employers, waited to open new accounts.

Tanvir Hussein, one of the men using the Najma ATM this week, said the requirement cost him a day’s pay because he was forced to miss work while waiting outside a bank branch.

Other residents said that WPS prevented their employers from paying them on time last month.

This appeared to happen to several hundred expats working for Drake & Scull at the Msheireb Downtown Doha construction site, went on strike recently after not being paid.

The wage protection system has been welcomed by human rights and labor activists including Amnesty International, which pointed to the measure in a report this week as a sign that Qatar is making progress in tackling the problem of late and unpaid wages.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Adam Bermingham/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

But there are still questions about how authorities will enforce the new measures.

For example, it’s unclear if the government will launch it own investigation if it detects that salaries are not being deposited, or if officials will only respond to complaints.

If it’s the latter, WPS may not make much of a difference, as some expats such as Ali would not lodge a complaint for fear of being fired.

Other men at the ATM who declined to give their names said they thought the measure was introduced to placate Qatar’s critics, but believed it would not actually change anything for expats working in Qatar.

How has the wage protection system affected you? Thoughts?

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Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Updated on August 25 with statement from UCC

A new system that will make it mandatory for companies in Qatar to pay their workers’ wages directly into bank accounts is not expected to officially come into effect for at least another two months, legal sources have said.

The Wage Protection System, an amendment to Article 66 of Qatar’s Labor Law (No. 14 of 2004), was approved by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on Feb. 18.

The new system aims to address problems surrounding non- and late payment of wages, particularly for blue-collar workers, by requiring all firms to register their employees’ details with Qatar Central Bank and to pay them at least monthly.

The law states the payment must be paid in Qatari riyals directly into a bank account, or risk penalties of up to one month in prison and a maximum QR6,000 fine.

Timeline confusion

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Michael Graffin/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

When the Emir approved the law, it was announced that a six-month grace period would be given for companies to comply with the new regulations before it was enforced.

Confusion has surrounded the date of the end of the grace period, with many observers expecting the deadline to expire today (Aug. 18) – six months from when the Emir signed off on the legislation.

However, laws in Qatar are not officially enacted until they are published in the Official Gazette, a document issued monthly in Arabic by the Ministry of Justice.

The relevant Labor Law amendments (Law No. 1 of 2015, an unofficial English translation of which can be found here) concerning the Wage Protection System appeared in the Official Gazette on April 2, law firm Squire Patton Boggs noted in an online client advisory on the issue.

According to this, the deadline for compliance with the new law should be counted six months from then, which would be Oct. 2.

However, the law allows for the grace period to be extended for a further “six months or more,” upon a decision by the Minister for Labor and Social Affairs.

Enforcement

Speaking to Doha News today, a lawyer who works for an international law firm here said that authorities in Qatar are planning to enforce the new legislation from early November.

“The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has told us verbally that Nov. 2 will be the date that it (the WPS) starts,” the source said.

It is also understood that banks in Qatar have a similar understanding of this timeline.

Since Qatar won hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup, it has faced significant international scrutiny over the human rights of its blue-collar workforce.

In May last year, authorities promised a series of reforms to the controversial kafala (sponsorship) system, but so far the WPS is the only change to be enshrined in law.

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Chantelle D'mello

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Not being paid on time or at all by their employers are among the top complaints of workers in Qatar.

Electronic salary transfers are one way the nation can tackle these abuses, and human rights’ organizations have been urging Qatar to adopt it.

Implementation of the online wage payment system has been in the works for more than a year, with the draft law approved by the State Cabinet in May last year.

At that time, the plan was to roll out the new system in stages, with phase one for firms with 500 or more employees, phase two for those with 100-500 members of staff and the final stage compliant on companies with fewer than 100 employees.

However, there is no mention of this detail in the published amendments to Article 66 and it is unclear if this will still be the case.

Ready to comply?

As the state’s banking regulator, Qatar Central Bank (QCB) is responsible for creating and handling the new system.

The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs – which is the government department responsible for overseeing the recruitment of all non-domestic workers to Qatar – are also involved in the new system.

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Duncan Smith/Corbis

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

According to an article on the issue published by local lawyer Ahmed Jaafir of Al Tamimi & Co, QCB contacted all banks in Qatar on Dec. 29, 2014 “instructing them to be ready to receive the wage files of their customers’ workers and process them through the Workers’ Wages Protection System no later than Jan. 15, 2015.”

The Peninsula reports that banks have been told that workers using the new system should be able to withdraw money from their accounts at least five times a month for free, before service charges are imposed.

Some retail banks, such as Commercial Bank, have issued statements announcing their readiness to comply with the new system.

However, it is not known how many companies have so far set up bank accounts for their workers, and if progress to adopt the new system is being monitored by the authorities.

At least one Qatari firm said it has already started paying its workers electronically.

Urbacon Trading & Contracting (UCC) told Doha News in a statement that its workforce has been paid through local bank accounts for the last “several years.”

The company’s CEO, Moataz Al Khayyat, said new employees are put into the system and issued with a debit card. It has a permanent Doha Bank ATM in its workers’ accommodation site and additional mobile ATMs are brought in are when salaries are paid out.

The workers payment protection is essential to ensure that all companies in the country pay their workforce on-time. UCC/KCT (Khayyat Trading & Contracting) supports such initiatives and ensures that its workforce are taken care of in all aspects inclusive of regular and prompt payment,” Al Khayyat added.

Thoughts?

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Jerry Bowley/Flickr

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Though Thursday is not a public holiday, banks and other financial institutions in Qatar will remain closed on New Year’s Day, a Qatar Central Bank representative has confirmed to Doha News.

However, bank employees will still be reporting to work to conduct the annual closing of accounts.

The reason that Jan. 1, 2015 will be a work day for most people is that Qatar does not officially celebrate the new year, and there are no fireworks or big public events planned for Wednesday night.

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Judit Klein/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, several things are going on around town – mostly at hotels, but also at beaches and other venues – for those looking to ring in the New Year with company.

Check out our guide for more information here.

For those planning to stay home, Dubai is going to be live-streaming its fireworks show from Burj Khalifa.

Keep in mind that the emirate is one hour ahead of us, so the spectacle should begin around 11pm our time on Dec. 31.

What are your plans? Thoughts?