KATHMANDU, Dec 14: Qatar on Tuesday reportedly ended the labor sponsorship system popularly known as kafala, that forces foreign migrant workers to seek their employers’ permission before changing jobs or leaving the country.
According to BBC news, the kafala system will be replaced with a new contract-based system, ensuring more flexibility and protections for migrant workers.
“These new legislative changes, combined with ongoing enforcement and a commitment to systemic reform, not just in Qatar but also in countries of origin, will ensure workers’ rights are respected across the entire labour pathway,” BBC quoted the Qatari government as saying in a statement.
Citing traditional Muslim law, employers in Qatar take control of the passports of migrant workers and do not let them change jobs or return to home without their permission. Migrant workers are also found to be deprived of weekly days off and freedom of movement. Human Rights organizations including Amnesty International often criticize the Qatar government’s restriction as “modern day slavery”.
Western countries and rights organizations have been putting pressure on Qatar to end the kafala system. The flow of migrant workers, according to migration experts, has decreased because of the strict rules in Qatar. Experts said, this has slowed down construction projects started with a view to organizing the World Cup 2022 .
“It can be a strategy to attract more laborers from sending countries so that construction companies could complete their projects in time,” said Ganesh Gurung, an expert on migration affairs and a former member of the National Planning Commission.
Qatar is hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and massive infrastructure development projects have been underway there for years. Around 500,000 Nepali migrant workers are estimated to be working in Qatar.
The details of changes in Qatari laws were not available immediately. The Qatar government has made an announcement in this connection in the past, and although some reforms in its traditional labor laws were announced, there was no significant change in employers’ behavior toward migrant workers.
Gurung said if the kafala is replaced with the contract-labor system as reported in international media it can be a significant change for foreign migrant workers including Nepalis. He believes that the latest move by Qatar may push other Gulf countries also to revise their labor policies.
“If the changes are made as reported in the international media and these are translated into practice that will certainly hold great significance for Nepali migrant workers there,” said Gurung.
But some international organizations working in this field are still doubtful. An official of Amnesty International (AI) said in an interview with the BBC that the measure will not lead to significant changes. “This new law may get rid of the word ‘sponsorship’ but it leaves the same basic system intact,” AI’s James Lynch told the BBC.