Qatar dismantles kafala system of modern slavery

21 Oct 2019 Ferado

Qatar has announced sweeping reforms to its labour market, with a view to ending the kafala system and marking a momentous step forward in upholding the rights of migrant workers. Exit visas for workers – including domestic workers, those in government and public institutions, and workers employed at sea, in agriculture as well as casual workers – have been eliminated. These workers have the same rights as all workers in Qatar. The same non-discriminatory law will apply for all workers including domestic workers. A new evidence-based minimum wage law that applies to all nationalities is established. Both ILO and ITUC praise the breakthrough.

The trade union movement and human rights groups have campaigned for years to have kafala abolished across the Gulf, whose countries use millions of low-paid immigrant workers mostly from south and south-east Asian countries including Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Philippines. There are more than 1.9 million migrant workers in Qatar, about 90% of the country’s total population, according to the ministry of development planning and statistics. Fifa’s decision to locate the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has hugely increased scrutiny, and the Qatar government ultimately responded by signing a formal cooperation with the ILO promising to implement improvements.

On 16 October 2019, the Council of Ministers of the State of Qatar unanimously endorsed new legislation allowing workers to change employers freely. Workers in Qatar had previously required a no-objection certificate (NOC) from their employer in order to do so. A Ministerial Decree by the Minister of Interior was also signed, removing exit permit requirements for all workers, except military personnel. Together, these steps mark the end of kafala in the country. The new laws will come into effect from 1st of January 2020.

Under the new laws, workers will be able to change jobs following an initial probationary period. Previously, they required a no-objection certificate (NOC) from their employers.

The removal of exit permit requirements for all workers, except military personnel, means that they also will be free to leave Qatar, whether temporarily or permanently, without the permission of their employers.

The non-discriminatory minimum wage will apply to all nationalities and all sectors of the labour market. The level will be set later this year.

ILO: This is a momentous step forward

New labour laws in Qatar that allow foreign workers to freely change jobs and leave the country without the approval of their employers has been praised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as “a momentous step forward” in upholding the workers’ rights. The ILO said it has been working with the Qatari authorities since November 2017 through a three-year technical cooperation programme. An ILO Project Office there, established in April 2018, has been supporting the labour reform agenda.

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