Qatar promises to reform ‘kafala’ labour law

Doha, under pressure from rights groups who liken conditions for some migrant workers there to slavery, pledges change.

Labourers work at a construction site in Doha
Qatar's current sponsorship system has been likened to modern-day slavery by human rights groups [Reuters]

The Gulf state of Qatar, which is facing increased pressure by the international community to improve the rights and conditions of migrant workers, has pledged to introduce new labour legislation by early 2015.

The emirate’s sponsorship law, known as “kafala”, which limits the rights of movement of foreign workers and has allegedly led to widespread exploitation, will be replaced by new legislation that is “currently under review”, a statement from the country’s labour and social affairs ministry said.

“We expect to make announcements about new legislation by early next year,” it said.

Doha said in May that it would replace the sponsorship system, under which Qatari employers can prevent their foreign workers from leaving the country or  changing jobs, with a new system based on employment contracts.

The exit permit that foreign workers need to leave the country, which was likened to modern-day slavery by human rights groups, is to be replaced by a system under which permission is granted automatically after a three-day grace period.

Foreign workers would also be able to change jobs at the end of their contracts, without the need for the certificate they currently require that their previous employer has no objection.

If the contract is an open-ended one, foreign workers would be able to change jobs after five years, and employers confiscating the passports of their workers would face tougher penalties.

“We intend to effect meaningful and lasting change for the benefit of all those who live and work in Qatar,” the labour ministry said Sunday.

Qatar’s treatment of its massive foreign workforce has been under the international spotlight as it launches a massive construction programme for the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar has a 1.2 million-strong labour force – comprised almost entirely of migrant workers from Asia.

Source: Al Jazeera