KATHMANDU, May 1: In a move that could benefit nearly half a million Nepali migrants, Qatar is mulling crucial changes in its sponsorship system which 'subjugates' the expatriate workers to their employers.
Qatar could agree a deal within a fortnight to abolish its controversial exit visa system, a scheme that requires workers to obtain their employers' permission to leave the country, Associated Press reported on Sunday.
The news agency has reported that the possibility of the deal come shortly after the International Labour Organisation (ILO) office in Doha, part of an agreement under which the United Nations agency will oversee wholesale labor reforms by the 2022 World Cup host.
On October 26, 2017, Qatar struck a technical cooperation agreement with the ILO, committing “to align its laws and practices with international labor standards and fundamental principles and rights at work”.
According to Amnesty International (AI), the agreement covers five strands of work: reform of the sponsorship system -- access to justice, “worker voice,” health and safety, pay, and recruitment.
Qatar, the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, first announced the end of the sponsorship system in December 2016, describing it as a major step in substituting the “kafala” with “a modernized, contract-based system that safeguards workers' rights and increases job flexibility.”
Kafala is a sponsorship system that endows a local citizen or a local company (the kafeel) to sponsor foreign workers in order for their work visas and residency to be valid. The system also requires workers to get consent of the employers to change jobs or leave the country. Because the system give vast powers to the sponsor over the expatriate workers, rights groups say that the sponsorship system exposes workers to subjugation and various forms of exploitation at the hands of the sponsor. Gulf nations including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan follow varying forms of Kafala to manage the migrant workforce.
Despite repeated pledges to change the laws, the Gulf state has been frustratingly slow in implementing the pledged reforms.
Rights groups have expressed hopes that the launching of the ILO migrant labor would accelerate the long-delayed sponsorship system reform.
In a statement released last week ahead of the opening of the ILO office in Doha, AI said that Qatar must deliver on its latest promise to end migrant rights abuse and communicate a timetable for meaningful reforms of its restrictive sponsorship system.
"Amnesty International is hopeful that, if fully implemented without dilution or delay, the ILO project offers a genuine opportunity to end chronic labor exploitation in Qatar. However, the government of Qatar is yet to clarify how and when it will deliver on its commitments to fundamentally reform its sponsorship system," Amnesty said in a statement.
The pledged reforms, if enforced sincerely, will benefit over 2.5 million expatriates working in Qatar. Qatar, home to nearly half a million Nepali workers, is the third largest labor destination for Nepali migrant workers after Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. Rights groups have long accused Qatar of doing little to end physical, mental and economic exploitation of workers. More than 1600 Nepalis have lost their lives since 2003 while working in Qatar, according to data compiled by the Nepali embassy there.