Qatar: Partial labour reforms welcomed, amid calls to ensure enforcement and accountability
On 16 October 2019, Qatar’s Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs announced major reforms to the kafala (sponsorship) system of migrant employment in Qatar, to allow workers to change jobs more freely and abolish exit permits for domestic workers, among others. The Council of Ministers also approved a new non-discriminatory minimum wage law. These laws were expected to come into effect on 1 January 2020, once endorsed by the Shura (Advisory) Council and signed by the head of state.
The reforms were announced during celebrations of ILO’s Centenary, and are part of the ILO-Qatar three-year technical cooperation agreement signed in 2017 to improve workers’ rights. Both the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, and Sharan Burrow, of the International Trade Union Confederation, welcomed the proposed reforms and stressed the importance of allowing migrant workers to access decent work.
The news was cautiously welcomed by human rights NGOs. Amnesty International and Migrant-Rights stated that the announced reforms would represent a major improvement in the protection of migrant workers, stressing the importance of enforcement and accountability for abusive employers. A full assessment of the reforms’ effectiveness could only be made once the full draft laws are made public. Migrant-Rights has highlighted remaining concerns regarding migrant workers’ ability to take agency of their residence status, currently in the purview of their sponsors.
In its 2020 World Report, HRW highlighted that Qatar was still falling short on labour reforms by the end of 2019. The organization outlined poor enforcement on bans on passport confiscation, recruitment fees and domestic worker laws. Further, the authorities have also failed to operatinalize the support and insurance fund to compensate workers for late payment, and fully abolish exit permits for all categories of workers.
In January 2020, Ministerial Decree 95 of 2019 came into effect, removing exit permit requirements for workers not covered by earlier reforms including those employed in the public, oil and gas, fisheries and agricultural sectors. Companies can still require exit permits for up to 5% of their workforce, while Ministry of Defense workers must still seek employer’s permission to leave the country.
Domestic workers also no longer require permission to leave the country either permanently or temporarily. However, unlike other migrant workers, they must notify their employers 72 hours in advance. No sanctions for failure to do so are specified by the law. Quotes in local media by a senior government official suggesting financial penalties and up to 4-year bans on future work for leaving without notifying employers created confusion and raised concerns about domestic workers in effect remaining at the mercy of abusive employers.
The new decree made no mention of the previously announced non-discriminatory minimum wage.