Qatar emir approves changes to controversial labour law

Qatar emir approves changes to controversial labour law
Qatar's emir approved reform of the country's much-criticised "kafala" labour laws on Tuesday, state media said.
3 min read
28 October, 2015
Qatar has faced fierce criticism over its treatment of migrant workers [Getty]
On Tuesday Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani approved a new law overseeing the sponsorship – or "Kafala" system - which currently only allows workers to leave the country with the approval of their employer, as well as rules which allow workers to switch jobs.

The new rules will allow foreign workers wishing to leave Qatar to apply for permission at least 72 hours beforehand to the interior ministry.

If this permission is initially denied, employees seeking to leave the country can complain to a grievance committee, which will be established under the new law.

The changes also allow foreign workers to switch jobs at the end of a fixed-term contract.

Under the current system, workers who leave a job at the end of a contract have to wait two years to return to Qatar to take up a new position, if the employer objects to the new job.

Exiting the country and changing work contracts had proved the trickiest areas to change and were the subject of fierce debate within Qatar, with the country's main advisory body, the Shura Council, questioning reforms earlier this summer.

The new law will not come under effect for another year.

The head of the National Commission for Human Rights in Qatar, Ali bin Smaikh Marri, viewed the new law as positive, telling al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic service that the law’s "endorsement from the Emir of Qatar is a positive step which will enhance the human rights situation in Qatar."

He added that the law identified the period during which the worker could move to another job would be five years, and that what would govern the relationship between the employer and the worker would be the labor contract.

However, human rights activists were skeptical of the changes.

"These changes are unlikely to lead to a meaningful improvement," Nicholas McGeehan, Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

"One of the most disappointing aspects of the law is the fact that workers will still apparently need employer permission to leave the country," he said.

Although the wording of the new law does not use the word "kafeel", or sponsor, it has been noted that the employer will continue to play a significant role in regulating the departure of their employees.

The country announced earlier this year that it was committed to change the "kafala" system by the end of 2015.

The system applies to some 1.8 million foreign workers, who make up about 90 per cent of the population in the tiny Gulf state.

The number of foreign workers, many of them laborers on major infrastructure projects directly or indirectly related to the World Cup, is expected to reach 2.5 million by 2020.