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Sat March 06 2021

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Qatar sets out reforms to safeguard construction workers

15 May 14 Qatar has announced reforms to strengthen labour laws and improve the living and working conditions of workers including those building the 2022 World Cup stadiums.

In particular, the current ‘kafala’ system will be replaced with a system based on employment contracts. Construction union Ucatt has cautiously welcomed the announcement of the abolition. It said that the kafala system means that the 1.2 million foreign workers currently in Qatar are treated as bonded labour, even needing the employers’ permission to leave the country. Ucatt had reported shocking exploitation of workers during a fact-finding mission (link opens in new tab).

Ucatt general secretary Steve Murphy said: “This shows the power of international trade unionism which has forced Qatar to act. This cannot be a cosmetic exercise and must be the first step in ensuring that all migrant workers in Qatar receive full employment and human rights.”

The current exit permit system, which requires the employer’s consent for an employee to leave the country, will now be replaced with an automated system through the Ministry of Interior. The system will automatically grant an exit permit to an employee after a 72-hour grace period prior to departure.

‘No objection certificates’, which currently regulate the transfer of employees to different employers, will be replaced with an employment contract system. If the employment contract is for a fixed term, the employee may transfer to another employer at the end of that term. If the employment contract is on an indefinite duration, the employee may transfer to another employer after five years from the date of the contract. A model employment contract will be distributed, which includes the new terms and conditions contained in the laws and employers can add other conditions as long as they are consistent with the new law. All existing contracts will remain valid until employers bring them in line with the new model contract within a one year grace period from the time the new law goes into effect.

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When the new law goes in to effect, the illegal practice of passport confiscation will be addressed by an increase of current penalty of a maximum of QAR 10,000 to up to QAR 50,000 for employers who confiscate an employee’s passport. This penalty will be imposed per conviction for every passport confiscated to act as a deterrent. For example, if an employer has been found to have confiscated ten passports, the court can sentence the employer to a fine of up to 500,000 riyals.

The existing labour law will be reformed to improve the living and working conditions of workers in Qatar. One reform will require the payment of wages electronically to ensure transparency, monitoring and timely payment. The State of Qatar has now adopted a unified accommodation standard to guarantee the quality of housing for all workers. In addition to worker accommodation that has recently been built, the Ministry of Municipality & Urban Planning (MMUP) will oversee the construction of worker accommodation to house an additional 200,000 workers this year.

In order to enhance enforcement of Qatar’s labour laws, amendments have been introduced to strengthen the penalty codes for labour law violations, including penalties for late payment of wages and violations of the new accommodation standards. The Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs (MOLSA) is also continuing to hire and train labour inspectors with a target of 300 inspectors by the end of the year. These inspectors have judicial power to issue penalties for violations related to workers’ accommodation, work sites and occupational health and safety.

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