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Neha Rashid / Doha News

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Nearly 40,000 companies in Qatar have adopted the new Wage Protection System (WPS) in the past year, the labor ministry has announced.

This means more than 85 percent of Qatar’s workforce – or some 1.8 million people – are now being paid their salaries electronically, the Government Communications Office said.

However, more than 300,000 salaried employees continue to wait for WPS to be implemented at their companies.

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Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

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Many of them have previously said they can’t afford to comply with the law.

But according to the labor ministry, these 6,700 firms are expected to adopt the system soon, with pressure from government inspectors.

Paper trail

Qatar’s Emir signed WPS into law in February 2015, and it came into effect in November of that year.

The move was designed to address a long-standing complaint among low-income workers in Qatar about late or unpaid wages.

In a statement marking the one-year anniversary of WPS, Minister of Administrative Development, Labor & Social Affairs Dr. Issa bin Saad Al-Jafali Al-Nuaimi said:

“Throughout the world, some employers use cash-in-hand payment to exploit low-income workers.

Through the implementation of the Wage Protection System, Qatar has introduced a paper trail that ensures greater transparency and greater protections for workers at risk of being cheated out of full financial compensation for their efforts.”

According to the labor ministry, some 385 violations have so far been issued against companies that have adopted WPS, but failed to pay salaries on time.

Penalties include fines of QR2,000 to QR6,000, and up to one month in jail.

Additionally, labor complaints have dropped in the past several months, compared to last year.

Cash crunch

However, contractors have said the implementation of WPS brings to light a longstanding payment crisis across the country.

For WPS to truly work, clients need to pay companies on time before they can in turn pay their staff, some managers told Doha News this summer.

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Business2community.com

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The current system can be improved by getting both parties to adhere to internationally certified contracts, one entrepreneur suggested.

Another businessman urged the government to impose strict legal penalties on clients who delay payments.

Thoughts?

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

Shabina S. Khatri

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Banks and government officials have enrolled an additional 200,000 expats over nearly two months in a compulsory program requiring Qatar employers to pay their workers electronically, the country’s labor ministry has reportedly said.

Speaking to the Qatar Chamber yesterday, Issa bin Saad Al Jafali Al Nuaimi – the Minister of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs – said yesterday that approximately 1.5 million residents are now covered by the Wage Protection System (WPS), according to the Gulf Times.

That’s up from 1.3 million reported in early May and, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 914,176 in January.

However, that means that some 200,000 residents of 1.7 million eligible individuals are still not covered by the WPS more than seven months after the law made it mandatory for employers to use the program.

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Osarieme Eweka/Flickr

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It’s not clear why so many people still fall outside the WPS, which is aimed at reducing cases of late and non-payment of wages, or if any companies have been sanctioned under penalties contained in the law.

Earlier this year, Qatar’s prime minister told the ILO that the country’s WPS was “enforced very strictly,” according to a report by the UN agency.

The ILO delegation said it was told that a Wage Protection Unit had been set up in the Labor Inspection Department and was monitoring the program’s implementation.

When violations are found, the minister has the authority to refuse to grant the offending company additional work permits.

‘Technical issues’

Human rights and labor advocates have frequently said that late or unpaid wages are among the most common complaints among low-income workers in Qatar.

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Elysia Windrum

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The WPS program is meant to address this problem by requiring companies to pay their employees electronically within seven days.

However, it only applies to individuals covered by the country’s labor law. This means domestic employees, agricultural laborers and several other categories of workers are excluded.

After months of debate, the WPS program was signed into law by the Emir in February 2015 but did not come into effect until November in order to give officials times to prepare.

Despite the advance warning, there was still a last-minute scramble as hundreds of blue-collar workers lined up outside banks for hours to open an account ahead of the deadline.

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.

In the following weeks, several companies – including a subcontractor on the Msheireb Downtown Doha redevelopment – blamed glitches with the WPS for causing delays in salary payments.

More recently, the manager of a hypermarket chain who declined to speak on the record told Doha News last month that “technical issues” with the WPS were causing delays in salary payments.

Reaction

It’s also not clear what impact, if any, the WPS has made on reducing incidents of unpaid salaries.

One of the primary functions of the WPS is to create an electronic record that shows if and when an employee has been paid.

It’s not known if any WPS records have yet been used to resolve any legal disputes regarding unpaid wages, or if authorities are pro-actively monitoring transactions to detect when a salary has gone unpaid.

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Adam Bermingham/Flickr

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For its part, the ILO said it considered Qatar’s WPS “to be a positive measure which, if implemented effectively, could contribute to address the recurring issue of the non-payment of wages.”

At the same time, the ILO report stated, many smaller subcontractors and labor supply companies had not yet signed up.

The reaction among workers themselves has been mixed.

“The new system has reduced our stress. Now, I need not bother about how to keep the money safe. My money will be safe in my bank account,” one construction laborer told the Qatar Tribune late last year.

Others have reacted with skepticism.

Thoughts?

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.

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Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

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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.

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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?