Living conditions and delayed salaries among concerns raised but Qatar says reforms are being implemented.
The government of Qatar has approved a draft bill to set up a support fund for its two million-strong foreign workforce.
Issa al-Nuaimi, Qatari labour minister, said that the fund would ensure overdue wages were paid to workers.
The “Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund” would operate independently under the auspices of the cabinet.
The new measures, endorsed by the Qatari cabinet on Wednesday, include a minimum wage for foreign workforce to ensure workers have the necessary means to meet living expenses.
Qatar has also signed 36 bilateral agreements with countries from which it draws most of its foreign workforce. The objective is to provide legal protection to workers.
The agreement was signed on Wednesday following a meeting between the Qatari labour minister and heads of diplomatic missions in Qatar.
The Arab Gulf state has come under scrutiny for its treatment of foreign workers from countries such as India, Nepal and Bangladesh, as it is in the process of building new infrastructure in the run-up to hosting the 2022 football World Cup.
The Belgium-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) welcomed the new measures, describing them as a “breakthrough”.
“Following discussions in Doha, there is a clear government commitment to normalise industrial protections for migrant workers,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC’s general secretary, in a statement on their website on Wednesday.
“These initiatives have the support of the ITUC, and we hope that implementation will also be supported by the ILO with its technical expertise. Much remains to be done, but these steps open the way for workers to be treated with dignity and for their lives and livelihoods to be protected,” she added.
Last year, the Qatari government also introduced a new labour law aimed at making it easier for migrant workers to change jobs and leave the country.
The law was implemented to ease the requirements of the work sponsorship system, known as Kefala, which currently requires all foreign workers to obtain their employer’s consent to travel abroad or switch jobs.
The 2016 law established the creation of state-run “grievance committees” to which workers can call on if employers deny them permission to leave the country.
To prevent delays in workers’ salaries, a mechanism called the “Wage Protection System” was introduced in 2015. As part of this mechanism, companies are required to transfer the salaries of all employees through an electronic system to the employees’ accounts in one of the state’s recognised financial institutions.