Labour organisation, rights body hail Qatar’s labour reform pledge to end abusive ‘kafala’ system and set non-discriminatory minimum wagesIn a landmark move, Doha on Sunday raised minimum wage by 25 percent to 1,000 riyals a month and scrapped a requirement for workers to get permission from their employers to change jobs.
The end of the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system that requires migrant workers to obtain their employer’s consent to change jobs and adoption of a non-discriminatory minimum wage marks the beginning of a new era for the Qatari labour market, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
In what is defined as a historic move, Qatar, Nepal’s top major labour destination country, adopted its Law No. 18 of 2020, on Sunday and migrant workers can now change their jobs even before their contracts end without first having to obtain a no objection certificate (NOC) from their employers.
This new law, coupled with the removal of exit permit requirements earlier in the year, effectively dismantles the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system.
Another legislation also fixed a minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals (Rs32,203) which will be enforced within six months after the law’s publication in the Gulf country’s official gazette.
“By introducing these significant changes, Qatar has delivered on a commitment. One that will give workers more freedom and protection, and employers more choice,” Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General was quoted as saying in the UN body’s statement. “We are witnessing what can be achieved when governments, workers and employers work together with the ILO to promote decent work for all.”
Amnesty International has also praised the Qatari government’s latest reforms, calling it a significant step towards protecting migrant workers and could strike at the heart of the abusive kafala system.
“But full implementation remains key if the country aims to truly end labour exploitation,” read the rights group’s statement.
In October last year, Qatar had pledged a slew of labour reforms, including ending the abusive and discriminatory ‘kafala’ system, which has been called a form of modern slavery, and introducing a new minimum wage for its labour force. The announcement had been praised by the ILO as “a momentous step forward in upholding the rights of migrant workers”.
The exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar, including hundreds of thousands of Nepali workers, under the kafala or sponsorship system, living and working under unsafe conditions, irregular and low pay, and living crammed in rooms without basic requirements have remained a concern for workers and labour rights groups for years.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup host nation has been under severe criticism for its treatment of millions of migrant workers despite its pledges of reforms ahead of the biggest sporting event of the world.
An Amnesty International report, “All work, no pay: The struggle of Qatar’s migrant workers for justice”, in September 2019, showed how hundreds of migrant workers employed by three construction and cleaning companies had to give up their access to justice and returned home penniless since March 2018.
Exploited and discriminated migrant workers’ condition was made even worse with the pandemic for workers living in Qatar, described as ‘coronavirus prison’ for unsafe living conditions.
Nepalis workers were compelled to live in squalid conditions fearing infection spread in cramped accommodation facilities. Qatar was also accused of using the pandemic as a ruse to expel hundreds of Nepali migrant workers. Another Amnesty investigation revealed that Nepalis were among workers, building World Cup projects, who were unpaid for several months even during the pandemic.
With the new law, the new minimum wage will apply to all workers, of all nationalities and in all sectors, including domestic workers. Furthermore, employers must ensure that workers have decent accommodation and food and provide allowances of at least QR 300 (Rs9,660) and QR 500 (Rs16,101) to cover costs of food and housing respectively if they do not provide workers with these.
According to ILO, the adoption of these laws supports the transition towards a more skilled and productive workforce, a key goal in Qatar’s National Vision 2030. Such reforms will also help promote economic recovery from the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the growth of the economy over the longer term, the UN body 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,” said Yousuf Mohamed Al Othman Fakhroo, Minister of Administrative Development, Labour & Social Affairs.
The ILO hoped that the introduction of a non-discriminatory minimum wage should directly affect around 400,000 workers in the private sector, and, through higher remittances, will improve the lives of millions of family members in the workers’ countries of origin.
“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,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). “ 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.”