Browsing 'labor law' News

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Updated at 11am on June 8 with information on Hamad Medical Corp.

According to Qatari law, both Muslims and non-Muslims should enjoy shorter workdays during Ramadan, legal experts have said.

With the exception of supervisors, security guards and cleaning staff, the law states that residents should work a maximum of six hours a day and 36 hours a week during the holy month.

Different rules apply to public-sector employees, who typically work five-hour days, as well as companies covered by the Qatar Financial Center, which may distinguish between fasting Muslims and other employees, experts say.

The shorter hours presumably make working easier on those who are fasting. This month, they must wake up around 3am to eat a pre-dawn breakfast (suhoor) before going without food or water until sunset, which contributes to lower levels of energy later in the day.

Flouting the law

Despite the law, some people in Qatar say their employers have instructed non-Muslim staff to continue working as usual this month.

“Please be informed that … Ramadan Special Duty hours are applicable only to Muslim staff and non-Muslim staff should follow the regular working schedule,” states one memo from a local company with more than 2,500 employees dated yesterday.

Similarly, a memo sent out late last month by Hamad Medical Corp. said the health care institution’s official working hours will continue to be from 7am to 3pm, Sunday through Thursday.

However, the working hours for Muslim staff will be from 8am to 1pm, the memo stated.

An HMC spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

In past years, complaints about disparate working schedules have sparked online debates about whether someone who is not fasting needs shorter hours.

But according to legal experts, companies in Qatar are required to change the work schedules of all their employees.

“The Qatar Labor Law does not differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims,” one legal expert, who asked that her name and law firm not be published, told Doha News.

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She said that labor ministry officials undertake spot checks of workplaces throughout Ramadan in an effort to ensure that reduced workday provisions are being respected.

When violations are found, the legal expert said employees are typically sent home. In some cases – especially if there’s a re-offending employer – companies can be fined, she added.

Deadline pressure

However, in some workplaces – such as those where a project must be delivered by a set deadline – reducing work hours can present practical challenges.

“Inevitably, how the employment laws are applied in practice in Ramadan differs from one employer to another,” Stephen Lansdown, the head of the Qatar office of law firm Al Tamimi & Co., told Doha News.

“There will be occasions where a deadline demands that longer hours be worked (and) the Labor Law does allow an employer the right to require employees to work longer hours in Ramadan,” he added.

Lansdown said that most employees who are required to work more than six hours a day in Ramadan are entitled to claim overtime pay.

But Qatar’s labor law contains limits on how much overtime an employee can be claimed. This means in practice, not all employees who qualify for overtime will receive the extra pay, Lansdown said.

Residents who are forced to work longer hours can file a complaint in the same manner as other grievances, starting with their company’s HR department and escalating the issue to Qatar’s Ministry of Development, Labor and Social Affairs and the Labor Court, if necessary, according to the first legal expert.

Rules around the region

Rules about working during Ramadan vary across the GCC.

Like in Qatar, all employees in the UAE are entitled to work shorter hours during Ramadan. In contrast, Oman’s labor law states that Muslim employees should work a maximum of six hours per day, but does not spell out any provisions for individuals of other faiths.

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While uncertainty around the rules has led to conflicts between employees and their supervisors, recruitment website Bayt.com said its surveys suggest workplace morale is higher among professionals during Ramadan.

According to a poll of 3,660 individuals in the MENA region conducted last month, slightly more than half of respondents said they socialize more with their coworkers during Ramadan.

And more than eight out 10 MENA professionals, including some surveyed in Qatar, believe their lifestyle habits are healthier and that they spend more time with family and friends.

How does your employer manage staff hours during Ramadan? Thoughts?


More Ramadan coverage:
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Chantelle D'mello

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A final draft law amending Qatar’s controversial kafala sponsorship system is expected to be complete by the end of this year, the government has said in its first official announcement of a timeline for the long-discussed changes.

The official update appears to attempt to allay fears that progress on the reforms were at risk of stalling following reports last week that the country’s Advisory (Shura) Council had reservations about the proposed legislation.

The official media statement by the chief of the recently-formed Government Communications Office, Saif Al-Thani, outlines the legislative process in Qatar to counter claims which previously circulated in the local and international media that the reform process had hit a “setback.”

What’s happened

Following the initial announcement of reforms in May 2014, the proposed changes were discussed with Qatar’s influential business community. While the Chamber of Commerce signalled that it would back the reforms last October, consultations actually appeared to stretch into the new year.

The first iteration of the reforms was then drawn up by the Council of Ministers, Qatar’s “supreme executive authority.” As part of the legislative process, all draft laws are then sent to the Shura Council for review and recommendation, which was done earlier this month.

The advisory body, comprising 30 Qatari nationals, can submit proposals to amend the draft law back to the Council of Ministers, which then discusses the proposals with the relevant ministries and ministers who will be responsible for implementing it.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Thani met with Shura Council members to discuss their recommendations and concerns.

However, the Government Communications Office noted that the Shura Council “has no further influence on the proposed legislation” now that they’ve tabled their feedback.

“The Council of Ministers will now prepare the final draft of the kafala reform legislation, which is expected to be completed before the end of 2015,” it adds.

Kafala changes

Qatar’s kafala system has attracted considerable criticism from foreign media and human rights’ organizations in recent years for leaving expats vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous employers.

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The country’s officials have long promised reforms and finally introduced its proposals last year.

Since then, government officials have stopped short of giving a firm timeline of when the changes will come into effect.

The state’s Labor Minister came the closest in a media interview last month.

“I hope it will be prior to the year end. We discussed it, our stakeholders have looked at it… Now it is on track. I am 90 percent hopeful or believe that it will be (brought in before the year end),” Dr. Abdullah bin Saleh Al Khulaifi, the Minister for Labor and Social Affairs, was quoted by AFP at the time as saying.

The reforms were initially aimed at making it easier for expats to change jobs and leave the country. However, they stopped short of removing the controversial exit permit system, which requires most expats to obtain their sponsor’s permission before they can leave the country.

Last week’s Shura Council meeting provided the first public glimpse at the actual provisions in the draft legislation. In some cases, it appeared that some provisions would actually tighten restrictions on foreign workers rather than giving them more freedom.

For example, workers could be punished if they “deliberately create problems” for their employers by having the qualifying period for a no-objection certificate doubled, Al Raya reported at the time.

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Comprising 50 articles which are sectioned into 10 chapters, the draft law also includes provisions such as only being allowing expats to change jobs after completing a fixed-term contract, or after five years in the case of an open contract. Any job switches would have to be signed off by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs

Additionally, the Shura Council made several proposals of its own, such as banning an expat employee from changing jobs more than twice and underlining the right of employers to return workers hired under fixed-term contracts to their home countries once a project is completed.

Future changes

In the latest statement, the government concedes that “much more needs to be done” to improve workers’ rights and labor practices in Qatar.

“In the months ahead, the government will be looking at further reforms to labor practices in our country,” it said, adding that among the areas set for change will be the “dishonest” recruitment practices for bringing mostly unskilled and semi-skilled workers to the country.

Rogue recruitment agencies have previously been highlighted as a problem. Last July, the government said it would publicly name and shame Qatar-based companies which break the labor law by charging huge recruitment fees, for example.

These often amount to thousands of dollars, which workers usually borrow which puts them in huge debt before they arrive in the state.

Under this burden, exploited workers are often unwilling or afraid to speak up when their passports are seized or they are made to work for less than initially agreed, according to a Qatar Foundation-backed report on the issue which was published in July last year.

Thoughts?

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More than 800 companies in Qatar have been banned from applying for government contracts or requesting warehouse units as punishment for breaching the state’s labor law, a government official has reportedly said.

In the first six months of the year, 807 firms have been temporarily blacklisted by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA), which also means that they are not permitted to hire any new staff while the penalty is in place, The Peninsula reports.

The ministry’s director of work relations Mohamed Al Meer reportedly told Al Sharq that the penalties are short-term and can be lifted once companies are seen to have conformed to the law.

No specific reasons as to how the Law No. 14 of 2004 was breached were given, but Al Meer said the violations included human rights-related issues as well as procedural ones, like not having a registered office for the company.

If a similar rate of companies are sanctioned during the remainder of this year, then the total number of blacklisted firms for 2015 would be significantly lower than in previous years.

Past crackdowns

In January 2013 for example, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) announced that it had blacklisted 2,400 companies and a further 1,200 individuals for failing to meet the standards of the state’s labor law during 2012.

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Chantelle D'mello

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Those firms had failed to provide or renew their employees’ residency permits, employed “runaway” workers, and/or refused to pay to send their workers home after their employment was finished, prompting some expats to stay and work in Qatar without the proper paperwork, the MOI said at the time.

It is not clear if the decrease in sanctions this year are due to more companies adhering to the law, or if enforcement has been stricter than in previous years.

Early last year, the MOI announced it was taking a tougher line on employers who hire undocumented staff.

The punishments include “blacklisting” offenders by not allowing them to recruit new employees for two years, while companies and individuals who allow their sponsored employers to work for others could be blacklisted for one year.

Thoughts?