KATHMANDU, Oct 18: Qatar has endorsed new legislations that would bring an end to the Kafala system, an abusive sponsorship scheme that has long been criticized for fueling abuse and exploitation of foreign workers.
The new legislation, unanimously endorsed by the Council of Ministers of the State of Qatar on
October 16, allows workers to change their employers freely, and leave the country without a no-objection certificate from their employer or sponsors, ILO said in a statement.
The new legislation also include plans to increase minimum wage by a significant margin. The current minimum wage stands at 750 riyals.
“The ILO welcomes these reforms and recognizes the commitment of the State of Qatar to transforming its labour market. These steps will greatly support the rights of migrant workers while contributing to a more efficient and productive economy. I am pleased that the ongoing ILO technical cooperation program in Qatar is tangibly contributing to the government effort to advance social justice and promote decent work in the country,” said Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General.
ILO, which is working with the Qatari government to advance social justice and promote decent work in the country, claims that the elimination of NOC requirement will allow workers to freely change employers following an initial probation period. Should they wish to change employers during this period, the new employer would need to reimburse the recruitment costs to the original employer.
Key details are scarce but rights group say that the new legislation could prove extremely useful in safeguarding the rights of around 2 million foreign workers including around 400,000 Nepalis there.
Kafala, an inherent part of labor laws in many Gulf countries including Qatar, necessitates a no objection certificate from Kafeel, or Qatari citizen, for workers to change job or leave the country. Such certificate was even mandatory for repatriating dead bodies.
Rights groups have cautiously welcomed the new legislation.
“The devil will be in the detail. Far too often workers have continued to face exploitation and abuse despite reforms intended to protect them. We hope this time it will be different, and that Qatar can truly transform its labor laws to fully respect the rights of its migrant workers. This must also mean more rigorously enforcing its labor laws and holding abusive employers to account, Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Global Issues, said in a statement.
The new legislations are the latest in a series of reform measures announced by Qatar in recent months. Earlier this week, Qatar had announced a bucket fund to reimburse workers forced to pay exorbitant recruitment costs.
Human rights activists still appear skeptical given Qatar’s tendency of making such announcement to deflect its treatment of workers. Pressure is mounting on Qatar amid a series of disclosures that it was doing little to protect abuse and exploitation of workers, and investigate the increasing deaths.
Qatar first announced to revise the notorious Kafala system in 2016 after rights groups claimed that it was enabling modern-day slavery due to excessive power endowed to the sponsors.