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Qatar: Promises of 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 are 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 have been 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. “The ILO welcomes these reforms... These steps will greatly support the rights of migrant workers, while contributing to a more efficient and productive economy”, said Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General. This partnership was also recognised by Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, who stressed the importance of allowing migrant workers to access “decent work where they are treated fairly and with dignity and respect”.

The new draft laws have yet to be made public, leading to a cautious welcome 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 highlighted remaining concerns regarding migrant workers’ ability to take agency of their residence status, currently in the purview of their sponsors.

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18 October 2019

End of kafala system in Qatar to benefit Bangladeshi workers

Author: Dhaka Tribune (Bangladesh)

Qatar has announced sweeping reforms to its labour market, with a ruling to end the kafala system, marking a momentous step forward in upholding the rights of millions of migrant workers, including those from Bangladesh.

[Tuomo Poutiainen, ILO Bangladesh Country Director, said] “These reforms will benefit approximately 400,000 Bangladesh migrant workers in Qatar, 75% of whom are employed in the construction sector...

“By reforming the system, migrant workers will now have the freedom to change jobs, no longer rely on exit permits and see minimum wages for both migrant and national workers,” said the ILO [press] release.

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17 October 2019

Landmark labour reforms signal end of kafala system in Qatar

Author: International Labour Organization (ILO)

Qatar has announced sweeping reforms to its labour market, with a view to ending the kafala system...

The Council of Ministers of the State of Qatar unanimously endorsed new legislation allowing workers to change employers freely... A Ministerial Decree... [removed] exit permit requirements for all workers, except military personnel...

The Council of Ministers endorsed a new law to establish a non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first in the Middle-East.

[Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, said] “The ILO welcomes these reforms and recognizes the commitment of the State of Qatar to transforming its labour market. These steps will greatly support the rights of migrant workers, while contributing to a more efficient and productive economy... the ongoing ILO technical cooperation programme in Qatar is tangibly contributing to the government’s effort to advance social justice and promote decent work in the country."

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16 October 2019

Qatar announces abolishment of the Kafala system (again)

Author: Migrant-rights.org

Mandatory reimbursement of recruitment costs in cases where worker leave during the probationary period raises several questions: Will recruitment costs of the first contract be made transparent and openly declared? How else would the amount be determined? What steps will be taken to prevent illegal visa trading, and to ensure these costs are not passed on to the workers themselves?...

One key matter to consider... is whether or not migrants will be able to renew their own residence permits. Currently, only sponsors can renew residency permits, though workers are liable if the visa expires. Migrants with expired residency permits have an irregular status, incur fines and penalties, and face difficulty accessing benefits of Qatar’s other reforms.

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16 October 2019

Qatar dismantles kafala system of modern slavery

Author: International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)

[Sharran Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said]:

“The new tranche of laws will bring an end to the kafala system... exit visas for all workers including domestic workers eliminated; a system of contracts that are transparent and labour courts to enforce them; the end to permission to leave a job...; and a government fund to ensure workers are not disadvantaged by exploitative employers, while the state pursues recovery of entitlements...

an evidence-based minimum wage... will be a major improvement for workers, and will guarantee a minimum level of protection...

The reforms need to become embedded in employment practice and strong legal compliance."

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16 October 2019

Qatar to abolish ‘kafala’ labour next January before 2022 World Cup

Author: David Conn, The Guardian (UK)

The most deeply resented employment condition for migrant workers in Qatar, the “kafala” system, is to be abolished in January, the International Labour Organisation has announced...

Describing the abolition of exit permits and “no-objection certificates” for workers moving jobs as marking “the end of kafala,” the ILO said: “These steps will greatly support the rights of migrant workers, while contributing to a more efficient and productive economy.”

The level of the minimum wage, a key reform given the low pay for migrant workers in Qatar, the world’s richest per-capita country, will be set later this year, the ILO said, and not discriminate between nationalities.

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16 October 2019

Qatar: Pledge to end abusive ‘kafala’ system must truly transform workers’ rights

Author: Amnesty International

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Global Issues, Stephen Cockburn said:

“... it would be a major step forward if these measures finally allow workers to return home or change jobs without restriction. We will be closely scrutinizing the details of this announcement and pushing for any positive measures to be quickly and fully implemented...

“Far too often workers have continued to face exploitation and abuse despite reforms... We hope this time will be different, and that Qatar can truly transform its labour laws to fully respect the rights of its migrant workers. This must also mean more rigorously enforcing its labour laws and holding abusive employers to account.”

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16 October 2019

Qatar Celebrates 100th Anniversary of International Labour Organization

Author: Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (ADLSA), Qatar

[The Qatari government has launched] a package of policies and amendments that will lead to fair practices for all workers in Qatar. The reforms aim to strengthen and reinforce work relations, with a focus on labour contracts...

the Council of Ministers adopted new legislation related to the draft law on Qatar’s minimum wage... an important project is underway to facilitate workers’ mobility, enabling them to change from one employer to another...

a draft law leading to the removal of exit permits for workers in Qatar... will apply to all guest workers – including domestic workers... This legislation will be enacted immediately as the legislative session comes to an end.

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