In a country where sins against labourers appeared forgiven in the name of development, has the international outcry over Qatar’s labour violations finally reached the hearts of the Qatari regulators?
Will there be an end, at last, to all the harsh practices that the workforce has endured silently for years and that for the longest time seemed just part of carrying on business as usual?
The Qatari workforce suffered quietly for many years until recent investigations shed light on all the abuse of labourers and the injuries and deaths of migrant workers, in particular. With the lack of regulations and, more importantly, lack of enforcement of those that did exist, many questionable practices passed unpunished. Qatar is one of many countries in the MENA region still allowing many intolerable practices, including the Kafala system (a sponsorship system of migrant workers), unpaid wages, poor workers’ accommodations, and misinformation about the dangers related to the job.
Qatar promised the international community it would take appropriate action to tackle all the labour regime’s shortcomings. Indeed, Qatar has taken many measures that will help improve the country’s labour conditions, the most noticeable being the multilingual self-service complaint machines and the new labour market reforms.
The Qatari Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) launched a multilingual self-service for the labour force in Qatar to enable the workers to report labour violations. The new devices, available in MOLSA branches, give the workers the opportunity to file complaints against their employers. This measure was designed to help protect workers’ rights and report labour violations to the Labor Relations Department in the Qatar MOLSA.
The new labour complaint technology offers, in addition to Arabic and English, the opportunity for workers to file their complaints in Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, and Nepali. The Ministry announced that in the future, if necessary, more languages would be added to the system. The use of this new complaint technology aims to give a voice to all the workers regardless of their background. See http://marhaba.qa/ministry-of-labor-and-social-affairs-launch-multilingual-self-service-complaint-machines/ .
Labour market reforms
Qatar has finally announced some improvements relating to labour laws. One major improvement concerns the Kafala system, an archaic system that only a few countries still use to manage the migrant workforce. A new system will be based on an employment contract. This employment contract will enable the workers to obtain an exit permit through the e-government system. An improvement will also make any financial obligation incurred by the employee while in Qatar governed by Qatar’s Civil and Commercial Law. Additionally, a major change will abolish the No-Objection Certificates, which used to regulate the movement of employees between employers. This old system will be replaced with an employment contract system.
If the employment contract is of an indefinite term, then the employee may change employers after five years from the start of the first contract. The Qatari Government is, moreover, increasing the penalty against employers who confiscate employees’ passports.
Improvements to the law will also focus on worker health and safety measures and, most importantly, will enforce the apprehension of all Labour Code violators. MOLSA will be signing a Technical Cooperation Agreement with the International Labour Organization (ILO) this year to further support enforcement mechanisms. See http://marhaba.qa/qatar-introduces-new-labour-market-reforms/ .
These changes are paramount to the improvement of conditions for many working in Qatar. The existing situation reflects an abusive system that is not only old fashioned, but also totally incompatible with the level of social and economical development the country has achieved in the past decade.