Browsing 'labor law' News

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Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

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In the latest update on much-awaited changes to the nation’s kafala sponsorship system, Qatar’s labor minister has said he is “hopeful” that reforms pledged a year ago will be implemented by the end of December.

Minister for Labor and Social Affairs Dr. Abdullah bin Saleh Al Khulaifi made the remarks while speaking to foreign media on a state-organized tour of the country this week. AFP quotes him as saying:

“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).”

“It is not I who says it. It is our vision, our strategy… The new Qatar will no longer be having the kafala system. It will all be contractual agreements between employees and employer.

“We are not hiding from our problems here in Qatar, we are facing them,” Al Khulaifi added.

One year on

The official’s comments come nearly one year after authorities pledged speedy reform of kafala, saying the law would be changed to make it easier for expats to change jobs and leave the country in a press conference on May 14, 2014.

Last July, the labor minister said that the new system would come into place “as quickly as possible.”

However, the reforms still had to be discussed by Qatar’s business community, which appeared to give the green light in October last year when Qatar’s Chamber of Commerce said it would support the new system, as long as the law protected the interests of both the workers and the business owners.

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Muhammad Kamran Qureshi/Flickr

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The minister’s latest statement on the implementation of the reforms would appear to be progress on his position in March this year, when he warned that there was no set timetable for when the changes would become law.

The reforms are still waiting be approved by the state’s Advisory ((Shura) Council, before the Emir signs them into law.

Initially described as “abolishing” kafala, the announced reforms fell short of that promise, and did not propose to get rid of the system of exit permits and no-objection certificates.

A foreigner’s sponsor would still be able to apply to block an expat from leaving the country, and those who sign an open-ended contract would have to work in Qatar for five years before being able to freely change jobs.

Many international rights groups have condemned the sponsorship system, saying it enables an employer to wield too much control over an expat’s living and working situation in Qatar, contributing to abuses of power and exploitation of workers.

Speaking to AFP, Amnesty International researcher Mustafa Qadri said of the proposed changes:

“It’s another form of kafala with a different name, admittedly less restrictive but with many of the same problems.”

He added that the promised new rules still amounted to “forced labor,” as the employee cannot leave the country without permission from his employer.

So far, the only change that has been enacted from the list of reforms pledged last year is the Wage Protection System, which requires all employers to pay their staff by direct bank transfer and aims to tackle workers’ persistent complaints of late on non-payment of their wages.

First announced in July last year, the law was signed by the Emir in February and will be enforced starting in August. Employers in violation of the amendment could face jail time of up to one month and fines of QR2,000 to QR6,000.

Housing

The state of the accommodation often used to house migrant workers during their time in Qatar has also been criticized for being cramped, unsanitary and overcrowded.

Speaking with reporters this week, the labor minister admitted that these conditions are a “major problem.”

AP quotes Al Khulaifi as saying:

“Our delay nationally of accommodating properly such a population I think (was) a mistake that we are trying to remedy now. Current substandard labor accommodations are unacceptable.”

The official added that more spot-checks are being conducted on company accommodation, while the number of inspectors has almost doubled to 294 from 150 two years ago. A further 100 are being hired as part of “an ongoing, continuous project to upgrade our inspectors,” he said.

barwa al baraha

Omar Chatriwala/Flickr

Barwa Al Baraha

A number of organizations in Qatar have rules about workers’ accommodation. Both Qatar Foundation and Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – which is overseeing the construction of Qatar’s World Cup stadiums and training facilities – have workers’ charters.

In addition to requiring companies to pay for overtime and eschew the use of recruiters who charge worker fees, QF’s charter sets out minimum housing standards. This includes a maximum of four beds per room, allocating six square meters per resident as well as providing recreation areas.

Among the residential projects planned for lower-income workers is the $1 billion Barwa Al Baraha project, which aims to accommodate more than 50,000 migrants with other facilities including shops, a mosque, sports fields, used car showrooms and office space.

Thoughts?

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Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

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Updated on Feb. 19 with more details about the amended legislation

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar’s Emir, has approved an amendment to the national labor law involving the payment of workers through direct bank deposits.

At 8:40pm on Wednesday, Qatar News Agency posted the following bulletin:

Doha, February 18 (QNA) – HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani issued today Law No. (1) of the year 2015, amending some provisions of the Labour Act No. (14 ) of the year 2004.
The law is to be enforced and be published in the Official Gazette.(QNA)

No further details were released by QNA last night, prompting a flurry of speculation (and raised hopes) that the amendments involved changes to the kafala sponsorship system.

But local newspapers reported this morning that the legislation specifically involved the payment of workers in Qatar.

New requirements

Under the new provisions, companies will be required to pay their employees through direct bank transfers, making it easier for expats and the government to scrutinize and document any late or non-existing payments.

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Penny Yi Wang / Flickr

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Employees should be paid in Qatari currency once a month, or for some category of workers, every two weeks.

According to the full text of the amendments, which was published by Al Arab, firms will be given a six-month grace period to follow the new rules, which could be extended further by Qatar’s Minister for Labour and Social Affairs.

Once that period is over, employers in violation of the amendment could face jail time of up to one month and fines of QR2,000 to QR6,000.

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.

Kafala changes pending

Bank salary transfers are part of a package of labor reforms that Qatar has been working to implement for the past several months.

Last May, authorities also pledged to make it easier for expats to change jobs and leave the country. Over the past nine months, those amendments to the labor law have been tied up in consultative meetings.

To the disappointment of some, the proposed changes stopped short of abolishing the much-criticized no objection certificate requirement to switch employers and exit permit system that regulates sponsored employees’ ability to exit Qatar.

While waiting for more information about yesterday’s announcement, several human rights advocates speculated that the only changes would involve mandating electronic salary transfers:

Other reforms are expected to be introduced sometime this year, according to previous statements from officials.

Thoughts?

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Richard Messenger/Flickr

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Companies in Qatar that fail to pay workers’ wages on time could temporarily lose the ability to hire more employees, according to new draft legislation announced by the Cabinet.

The law, if passed, would also give the country’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) the ability to penalize errant companies by refusing to work with them until payment matters were resolved.

The penalties were announced after the Cabinet approved the latest version of legislation that requires companies to pay workers’ wages directly into a bank account through a Wage Protection System (WPS).

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Lesley Walker

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Details of the scheme were first announced at the end of April last year, when the Cabinet gave the initial nod to a number of proposed changes to Qatar’s Labor Law (No. 14 of 2004).

Since then, the draft law has been to the Cabinet several times for comment and review, and has also had input from the Advisory (Shura) Council. However, there is still no timeline for when it and other labor law changes will come into effect.

The new system aims to tackle the issue of late and non-wage payment to employees, which is one of the biggest complaints voiced by migrant workers based in Qatar.

Electronic salary transfer is seen as one way of stopping this abuse, and human rights groups have for some time been calling on Qatar to adopt this practice, which has already been introduced in the UAE.

How it works

Under the provisions, salaried workers who are hired on an annual or monthly basis must be paid their wages by direct deposit every month.

All other workers – including those on an hourly rate – must have their wages paid by electronic bank transfer at least every two weeks.

At the latest Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Ahmed bin Abdullah Al-Mahmoud said in a statement issued by Qatar News Agency (QNA) that workers must be paid within the first seven days of the following month.

MOLSA’s Labor Inspection Department has been tasked with enforcing the new regulations and can order a detailed report from companies of their wage payments.

Companies that have failed to follow the new rules face a number of sanctions:

“The Minister or his authorized representative may bring against an employer who violates the provisions of this resolution, any of the following: 1 – Cease granting new work permits. 2. Or, cease all dealings with the Ministry, excluding attesting of the labor contracts,” the statement adds.

However, the blacklisting appears to be a temporary measure and would be lifted “by the Minister or his delegate” after the company submits approval that they have paid all outstanding wages, QNA reported.

Phased implementation

When the idea of a wage protection system was first announced last year, the state banking regulator Qatar Central Bank (QCB) was put in charge of creating and handling it.

Penny Yi Wang / Flickr

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The system is expected to be introduced in three phases.

The first phase will affect the largest companies, with more than 500 employees. The requirement will then be rolled out to firms with 100 to 500 workers, while SMEs with fewer than 100 employees will be included in the final stage.

The recommendations would revise articles 1, 66 and 145 of the Labor Law of 2004 and in particular are contrary to article 66, which states that employees can be paid in cash and in person, and salaries can be transferred to bank accounts only by “mutual consent.”

MOLSA, which oversees the recruitment of non-domestic workers, and the Ministry of Interior have been collaborating to develop a database to track who is to be included in the wage protection system and who is not.

Over the past several months, companies have been asked by the labor ministry to provide salary details of all their employees.

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Stephan Geyer/Flickr

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The latest statement refers to the WPS applying to workers “who are subject to the labor law.” In its current form, the this law does not apply to domestic staff, suggesting that they would also be exempt from having the provisions of the new regulations.

Aspects of the Labor Law are under revision, although it is not known if it will be extended to include residents working as housemaids and nannies.

The wage protection scheme is one of a a number of measures the government has proposed in a bid to better protect the rights of expat workers in Qatar. Other revisions to the exit permit and no objection certificate requirements are expected to make it easier for expats to leave the country and change jobs.

While there have been suggestions that these could come in to effect early this year, no firm date has yet been announced.

Thoughts?