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Qatar 'dismantles' controversial kafala system in major labour reforms

The new reforms essentially 'dismantle' the controversial kafala system [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 August, 2020

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Qatar become the first country in the Middle East on Sunday to set a basic 'non-discriminatory' minimum wage for workers in the Gulf state, amid efforts to reform labour laws.
Qatar announced major reforms to its labour laws on Sunday, setting a basic monthly minimum wage and scrapping a controversial rule that complicates procedures to change jobs, in a move that has been described as the first of its kind in the Middle East.

Doha ruled all private sector workers in the country must be paid a minimum of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($274.6) by employers, as well as an extra 500 Qatari riyals for accommodation and a further 300 Qatari riyals for food.

The changes also bring to an end a controversial No-Objection Certificate [NOC] previously required by employees seeking to change jobs in the Gulf state.

The amendments also impose stricter penalties for employers tho fail to provide adequate accommodation to employees, a statement by the ministry of labour said.

“The State of Qatar is committed to creating a modern and dynamic labour market, in line with Qatar Vision 2030. These new laws mark a major milestone in this journey and will benefit workers, employers and the nation alike,” Yousuf Mohamed Fakhroo, Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, said.

The move was praised by a number of global organisations, including the International Labour Organisation, that described it as a step in the right direction ahead of the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022.

“By introducing these significant changes, Qatar has delivered on a commitment. One that will give workers more freedom and protection, and employers more choice,” said Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General. “We are witnessing what can be achieved when governments, workers and employers work together with the ILO to promote decent work for all.”

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said, “This is very good news for migrant workers in Qatar. The leadership shown by Qatar in dismantling the kafala system and introducing a minimum wage is long-awaited news for all workers. The ITUC stands ready to support the Government of Qatar in the implementation of this historic move, to ensure all workers are aware of the new rules and benefit from them. Other countries in the region should follow Qatar’s example.” 

Meanwhile, Roberto Suárez Santos Secretary-General of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) said, “These reforms will make a major contribution to the efficiency and productivity of the Qatar labour market. IOE stands ready to support the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Government in supporting employers during this transition. Our congratulations to Qatar and its Chamber of Commerce!”

Qatar’s announcement came after it rejected a new Human Rights Watch report last week that accused the Gulf state of failing to pay migrant workers and insisted it is committed to widespread reforms ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Doha hit back at the HRW report saying it was designed to "intentionally mislead public opinion while performing a disservice to those they claim to be assisting".

"The current report contains repeated inaccuracies around policies and does not reflect the current situation in Qatar. Nearly all individuals who come to Qatar for employment never experience any form of wage abuse," an official ministry statement said.

However, authorities in Qatar admitted there are incidents where workers had gone unpaid.

"There are a few, isolated, instances where workers experience this issue. These cases have declined as laws and regulations have driven fundamental and lasting change," it read.

The official statement was released a day after the rights organisation published a damning report accusing Qatar of allegedly failing to meet its 2017 commitments to the ILO.

Qatar, like other Gulf Arab states, rely on a vast population of foreign workers for jobs ranging from domestic help, construction work, to white-collar jobs.

Read also: Comment: Can Gulf countries survive without their foreign workers post-pandemic?

Some 35 million labourers work in the six GCC states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Jordan and Lebanon, according to UN figures.

Almost 90 percent of Qatar's population are expatriate workers as the country completes dozens of mega-projects ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

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