Qatar has pledged to abolish its labour system that ties migrant workers to their employer and requires them to have their company’s permission to leave the country as part of sweeping reforms to its labour market.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasir bin Khalifa Al Thani tweeted on Wednesday confirming the “reform of policies & legislation to improve workers’ welfare standards” adding the country’s “full commitment to the fundamental rights relating to labour”.
In a statement sent by the government’s communication office to Al Jazeera, the labour ministry announced the adoption of new legislation related to the draft law on Qatar’s minimum wage.
Under Qatar’s “kafala” (Arabic word for sponsorship) system, migrant workers must obtain their employers’ permission – a no-objection certificate (NOC) – before changing jobs, a law that rights activists say ties them with their employers and leads to abuse and exploitation.
Today, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the @ilo . This celebration comes in conjunction with the reform of policies & legislation to improve workers’ welfare standards, & to reaffirm our full commitment to the fundamental rights relating to labour. #Qatar
— عبدالله بن ناصر بن خليفة آل ثاني (@ANK_AlThani) October 16, 2019
Qatar and its labour laws have been under the spotlight ever since the country was named the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Its government has pledged to resolve labour disputes in the run-up to the tournament.
In August, there were calls for Qatar to completely “remove the power imbalance between employees and the employers” after at least 5,000 workers took to the streets to protest salary delays and working conditions.
Protesting workers, mostly from Bangladesh, told Al Jazeera that in addition to poor living conditions, they had not been paid for four months, the companies had failed to renew their work permits – making their status in Qatar illegal – and were not given the required letters that would allow them to switch employers.
Amnesty International released a report in September highlighting how “hundreds of migrant workers” were forced to give up on “justice” and return home “penniless” since March 2018.
In a statement to Al Jazeera in the wake of the report, Qatar’s Government Communications Office said: “Qatar has made substantial progress on labour reforms and it continues to work with NGOs, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), to ensure that these reforms are far-reaching and effective.”
“Any issues or delays with our systems will be addressed comprehensively. We have said, from the outset, that this would take time, resources and commitment,” the statement said.
On Wednesday, the ILO welcomed Qatar’s move, which still needs approval from the Advisory Council as well as the country’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
However, Kafala would only be truly abolished when workers have agency to renew their own residence visa, without being dependent on the sponsor to do so. Separation of residence and work visas is critical to ensure workers are not at the complete mercy of their sponsors.
— Migrant Rights (@MigrantRights) October 16, 2019
The ILO announced: “The Council of Ministers of the State of Qatar unanimously endorsed new legislation allowing workers to change employers freely.”
It added that a ministerial decree was also signed that would remove “exit permit requirements for all workers, except military personnel”.
Last year, Qatar announced it was abolishing the need for exit permits for non-domestic migrant workers.
It also did away with the need for an NOC if the migrant worker completed the contract duration or finished five years in the event of an undefined time period in a contract.