Qatar has unveiled plans for labour reforms which include replacing a contentious sponsorship law known as “kafala” – in which migrant workers need their employer’s permission to change jobs – with a system based on employment contracts, officials said in Doha.
An exit permit law requiring workers to obtain an employer’s consent to leave Qatar will also be amended.
The initiative, which follows criticism from rights groups over Qatar’s treatment of workers, sets no timetable and the changes would still leave employees without a minimum wage or trade unions.
Qatar has the highest proportion of migrant workers per population in the world and a lack of workers’ rights has attracted international attention as the country prepares to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup.
The proposals follow a Qatar-sponsored review of its labour legislation by British-based law firm DLA Piper, which made a number of recommendations including the creation of a minimum wage for each category of construction worker.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has said more than 1,200 men have died in preparations since the Fifa World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010.
Qatar has said no construction workers have died working on a World Cup site.
The reforms envisaged do not include the creation of trade unions or the establishment of a minimum wage. Officials outlining the changes said that wages were dictated by market supply and demand.
Under the reforms, workers will have their wages paid electronically to avoid late payments. And the country would adopt a “unified accommodation standard”, a measure apparently aimed at improving the quality of migrant workers’ housing.
The officials also propose raising to QR50,000 ($13,732) from QR10,000 ($2,746) a fine for employers holding the passport of an employee, a common practice among most construction firms and other companies in Qatar. Currently the fine is rarely enforced.
These proposals would now have to go through the Shura Council, a consultative body, as well as Qatar’s chamber of commerce and government departments prior to their conversion into law, said Muhammad Ahmed Al Atiq, assistant director general of expatriate affairs at the Ministry of Interior.