Kafala will be abolished… ultimately; But Qatar’s big announcement on labour laws is still pending cabinet approval
Qatar today announced its intention to completely abolish the kafala system, but pending the Shura council’s approval.
The most important points of the announcement include: removal of the 2-year ban; shifting issue of exit permits from the employer’s to the government’s hands; and bringing domestic workers under the labour law.
However, a grave cause for concern is that these changes to employment of migrant workers is pending not just the cabinet’s approval, but also recommendations of the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (QCCI) that has for long resisted changes to sponsorship system.
- The current kafala system will be replaced with system based on employment contracts.
- Exit permits through automated system (Metrash 2) and doesn’t require employer’s approval.
- Employer not financially liable for their employees. Any financial obligations will be governed by Qatar’s Civil and commercial law.
- NOC (No Objection Certificate) will be replaced by an employment contract, and employees can change jobs at the end of contract. If contract is for indefinite period, then after 5 years. A new model contract will be shared with companies soon, that includes new terms and conditions.
- When new law in effect, passport confiscation will result in a penalty of up to QR50,000 (currently QR10,000).
- One can hold more than one job, provided both employers approve.
Longer contract period?
In the last few days, some employees have had their contracts renewed for a longer term, which may well mean that longer contract periods could become the norm, which will effect impede mobility of labour.
Am i the only one facing problems after the announcement about changes in Kafala system? #Qatar *NewRulesEachDay*
— شيجو (@shaiju) May 13, 2014
At present, most companies provide contracts for one or two years maximum.
James Lynch, Amnesty International’s researcher on migrants’ rights in the Gulf, speaking to JustHere on this aspect, says:
“The proposed reform creating a contract-based system appears effectively to limit the time a worker is subject to the sponsorship system to the length of his or her contract. That means, it would seems, that for the whole of that time, the same principle would apply as does at present; you can’t get a new job without your employer’s permission. That does, potentially, open up the risk of incentivising companies to insist on lengthy contracts for workers, to maximise the length of time they can exert control over the employment status of a migrant worker. These kinds of risks, which can result from partial reforms, show exactly why we have called – and are still calling – for the straightforward cancellation of the NOC requirement.”
The press release re-emphasised previous statements made on protecting workers’ rights and providing proper housing, etc.
The government will be announcing regular updates in the coming months on the new regulations and will work closely with local and international companies to provide support during this transition period, the release said.
Comments from rights’ organisations and activists
FIFA President Sepp Blatter in a statement said:
“This announcement is a significant step in the right direction for sustainable change in the workers’ welfare standards in Qatar. We look forward to seeing the implementation of these concrete actions over the next months. We will continue our close cooperation with Qatari authorities as well as dialogue with all key stakeholders.”
Amnesty International, in a press statement said the proposals for Qatar migrant labour reform was a missed opportunity. “The proposed measures stand in stark contrast to the findings of the international law firm DLA Piper, whose report, commissioned at the government’s request, confirms many of Amnesty International’s findings regarding the systemic nature of the abuse of migrant workers.”
“The government claims it is abolishing the sponsorship system, but this sounds like a change of name rather than substantive reform. In particular, it remains unclear how proposed reforms to the exit permit will work in practice, and whether under the new proposal employers will retain the ability to object to workers leaving the country.
“While some of the measures announced today are positive and if implemented would improve conditions for workers, they do not go nearly far enough.
“We welcome the fact that a government-commissioned report (by DLA Piper law firm) is categorical about the inadequacies of the sponsorship system. Many of the findings and recommendations are consistent with Amnesty International’s own research.
“While the report makes some good recommendations, it pulls its punches on reform of the exit permit and sponsorship system. DLA Piper’s recommendations don’t always reflect their analysis of the problem. The sponsorship system is not fit for purpose, and the exit permit isn’t justifiable.”
Researcher at MigrantRights.Org Rima Kalush told JustHere: “The conference seemed to be an anouncement of an anouncement. My worry is that Qatar will follow Bahrain’s footsteps in renaming the sponsorship system without actually abolishing the majority of the exploitative laws and practices that encompass the system. It’s important to be hopeful but also to recognise that Qatar has previously announced intentions to scrap the Kafala system as well as major reforms to the domestic worker sector with no follow through. Many of the possible reforms announced seem promising but there was not enough revealed about implementation to gauge the potential impact.”
Doha-based labour rights’ activisit Aakash Jayaprakash points out that there is still a long process ahead before this becomes the law, and hopes that the changes are quickly and effectively implemented. He adds:
“It is good that employers are no longer held accountable for any financial liabilities held by the employee. Questions remain unanswered on the status of family sponsorships and how exit permits would work for adult children of migrants. A key matter of concern is the status of domestic workers, security guards and cleaners who remain either excluded from or limited in their access to labour laws. Even if domestic workers are included in the new employer-employee framework, it is still a fact that a bill of rights or laws that protect them is absent. The government has stated that they would share a sample employment contract and this is excellent news, but again, we will have to see how this would play out in reality.
“While it was good to see that the fine for passport confiscation has been raised to QR50,000 a Qatar University studies had shown that passports were confiscated in over 90% of cases surveyed. How many people were actually fined QR10,000 under the previous law? That would allow us to benchmark the previous law and how many transgressions there were.
“It is also important to note that while Qatar has now chosen to abolish the two year ban, they have done this when Oman has just announced that it is introducing the two year ban on workers as a measure to better manage their demographics. It is undoubtedly a serious challenge for the Qataris, but I am hopeful they will make some brave decisions and uphold the constitution of Qatar that calls for equal treatment of all people in the country.”
One of harshest comments was from the ITUC that has always been severely critical of Qatar. Its General Secretary, Sharan Burrow said in a statement:
“Modern slavery will still exist in Qatar despite the announcement of cosmetic reforms to the labour law today. The changes are designed to make it easier for employers to find migrant workers, but the announcement fails to address the multiple violations of international labour standards found by the International Labour Organisation in March. The announcement was made by civil servants and the military, without a government minister present. It gives no guarantee for workers in Qatar.
No time frame or process associated with the reforms has been detailed.”
To know more about issues facing migrants in Qatar and pressure from international bodies, read our report from yesterday.
Note: This article will be updated through the day.