Qatar: Labour reforms come into effect, commentators warn change is insufficient

Qatar’s much anticipated labour reforms came into effect on Tuesday 13 December 2016. Law No. 21 of 2015 introduces new provisions regulating the entry, exit and residency requirements of all migrant workers in Qatar. While the government states these reforms demonstrate an end to the ‘Kafala’ system, critics warn Qatar’s new law is insufficient, and fails to adequately protect the 2.1 million migrants currently working in the country.

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Article
14 December 2016

Qatar labour reform: Ending kafala barely scratches the surface

Author: Roshan Sedhai, The Kathmandu Post

Qatar hired 129,038 workers from Nepal in the fiscal year 2015-16, becoming the second largest recipient of Nepali migrants after Saudi Arabia. Nicholas McGeehan, Qatar researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that it would be apt to describe the new laws as “old wine in new bottle. Qatar has just given the dreadful “kafala” system a new name in the hope that people will be too stupid to notice. Nepal and other countries that send young men and women to Qatar should be making their objections loud and clear,” McGeehan told the Post in an email interview.

He said that Qatar’s “sham reforms” are meant to shrug off pressure that has been mounting on the country for its mistreatment of migrant workers. Qatar has drawn widespread criticism for its mistreatment of workers since it won the right to host the 2022 football World Cup. “What right does Qatar have to entrap young Nepali men and women in exploitative jobs and keep them from their families for up to five years? When will Nepal stand up for the fundamental rights of it people instead of just counting the money flowing back in remittances?” questioned McGeehan.

Nepali officials said that they would comment after they go through the new laws. Govinda Mani Bhurtel, spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour and Employment, said that Nepali side will raise concerns in the bilateral forum if the laws still fall short of safeguarding rights of the workers.  “I came to know about the new legislation through news reports. It is said that the new laws would make it easier for the workers to obtain exit visa and apply for work elsewhere. We will go through the legislation and make our views public,” said Bhurtel.

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Article
14 December 2016

What do Qatar's kafala reforms mean for company action on migrant rights?

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Amidst contention over the impact of Qatar’s kafala reforms on the lives of migrant workers, companies must look to international standards to ensure the rights of their migrant workforce.

In 2016, we invited 55 construction companies to participate in a survey on migrant rights in their Qatar operations.[5] The responses yielded important observations on the current status of corporate compliance with international labour standards and action on freedom of movement. Of the 55 companies we contacted, only 13 responded, and less than 25% had a publically available human rights commitment that referenced international standards and principles on human rights and labour.

The analysis of the survey responses revealed some examples of better practice, but overall there is far more that the construction sector can do to meet international expectations on transparency and freedom of movement for migrant workers...scrutiny of the sector and its business partners by international institutions, governments, media and civil society that will not end with these reforms.

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Author: العرب

ألغت قطر أخيرا نظام “الكفيل" الذي كان ينظم تواجد العامل الأجنبي في الدولة من دون تقديم رؤية واضحة لفلسفة القوانين البديلة التي أعلنت عن العمل بها، ويقول مراقبون إنها لن تكون كافية لحل المعضلة التي تؤرق السلطات القطرية.

ويعج نظام الكفيل، الذي تعتمد عليه دول خليجية للسيطرة على عدد العمال الأجانب بالمشكلات، إلا أنه أثبت فاعلية في ضمان الاستقرار السياسي ونمو الاقتصاد الذي يشكل العمال الوافدون محركه الأساسي.

وتحاول الحكومة القطرية على ما يبدو تجنب انتقادات آخذة في التصاعد ضد نظام الكفالة، لكن ذلك لن تكون له جدوى في ظل تدني أجور العمال، وشكاوى من طول عدد ساعات العمل والإقامة في غرف لا تصلح غالبيتها للعيش الآدمي.

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Article
13 December 2016

2022 World Cup host Qatar loosens rules for migrant workers

Author: Adam Schreck, Associated Press

Qatar announced Monday it is introducing long-expected reforms to policies governing its vast foreign-labor force, though the changes still require workers to seek clearance from their bosses before leaving the country.

A statement released by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs said the changes are intended to ensure "greater flexibility, freedom and protection" to the more than 2.1 million workers in Qatar.

Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East director, Joe Stork said, "The message this law sends is that Qatar doesn't really care much about migrant workers. Its sponsorship system remains a serious stain on Qatar's international reputation."

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Article
13 December 2016

Migrant workers in Qatar still at risk despite reforms, warns Amnesty

Author: The Guardian (UK)

“It is good that Qatar has accepted that its laws were fuelling abuse but these inadequate changes will continue to leave workers at the mercy of exploitative bosses,” [James Lynch, deputy director for global issues at Amnesty] said. Lynch, a former British diplomat in Doha, said that in practice employers would still be able to stop migrant workers from leaving the country and that, by making it easier for employers to confiscate workers’ passports, the new law could make the situation worse. “The tragedy is that many workers think that this new law will be the end of their ordeal,” he said.

The Gulf state is spending an estimated $200bn on new transport infrastructure, housing and sports facilities, including six stadiums designed by architects including Lord Foster and the late Zaha Hadid. Construction for the 2022 World Cup will peak in the coming two years, and Spanish champions FC Barcelona are due to play an exhibition match in Doha on Tuesday.

Amnesty has warned Fifa that it “cannot continue to remain shamefully ambivalent to the plight of workers in Qatar” and said FC Barcelona “should make clear to their hosts their desire to play in a human rights-friendly environment. Players and clubs cannot live in a bubble”.

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Article
13 December 2016

Qatar labour ‘reforms’: actions speak louder than laws

Author: Stephen Russell, ToUChstone Blog

With the International Labour Organisation (ILO) regularly criticising the country and giving it a 2017 deadline to show progress in eradicating modern slavery, Qatar had little choice but to take action. The abolition of kafala would go some way to doing that, and move the country from an outmoded system of employer “sponsorship” (one step removed from ownership) and to a modern system based on contract law.

However, as the law has evolved, concerns have been growing that for all the grand claims of reform, Law 21 might prove to be little more than a veneer to present the country’s labour laws in a better light, and provide little of real substance to transform the difficult lives of migrant workers and protect those at greatest risk of abuse. What the law clearly does not do is change the fundamental power dynamic to allow workers to escape abusive employment. 

The timing is also concerning. We’d like to have more faith, but with the ILO Governing Body due to examine Qatar’s progress in March, we foresee that “give us a chance, we only brought in the laws in December” will be used as an excuse for a lot of failures, followed by arguments that they should be given another full year to show their effectiveness.

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Article
13 December 2016

Qatar says labour reforms will benefit migrant workers

Author: Tom Finn, Noah Browning & Richard Lough, Thomson Reuters Foundation

The Qatari government on Monday vowed that labour law reforms to make it easier for migrant workers to change jobs and leave the country would bring "tangible benefits"...The reforms will establish the creation of state-run "grievance committees" to which workers can appeal if employers deny them permission. They will also allow workers who have completed contracts to change jobs freely and imposes fines of up to 25,000 riyal ($6,865.87) on businesses who confiscate employees' passports.

Amnesty International said in a statement that the new law would "barely scratch the surface of an abusive system". The campaign group called on Qatar to abolish exit permits altogether and ban passport confiscation.

A workforce of 2.1 million foreigners outnumbers Qatari citizens by about 10 to one. Unions and labor protests are banned. Japesh, an Indian construction worker waving traffic past a building site in Doha on Monday welcomed the reforms but said he would wait to see if the rules were enforced. "They [our bosses] told us before that things would improve but last month our passports were taken and our pay was delayed again," he said.

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Article
13 December 2016

Qatar’s Labour “Reforms”: New Labels on Old Laws

Author: ITUC

The new law retains the exit permit system which allows employers to keep workers in Qatar against their will for up to five years, and to stop workers from changing jobs during their contract. It also now allows employers to keep workers’ passports, which was previously illegal although rarely if ever enforced. Workers are still banned from forming unions and from collective bargaining, and in the absence of a minimum wage, they are paid according to their country of origin rather than the actual job they do.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “Qatar has re-named the appalling kafala system, but the fact is that migrant workers will remain bonded to their employers."

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Author: الوطن

أعربت دولة قطر عن رفضها التام للادعاءات التي وردت في تقرير منظمة العفو الدولية، والتي زعمت فيه أن القانون رقم 21 لسنة 2015 بشأن تنظيم دخول وخروج الوافدين، وإقامتهم، فشل في توفير الحماية القانونية الكافية للعمالة الوافدة في دولة قطر.

وأضاف أن هذه التغييرات التشريعية الجديدة، والحرص على الإصلاح المستمر لأنظمة العمل، التي لم تقتصر على دولة قطر، بل شملت الدول المرسلة للعمالة أيضا، سوف تضمن حماية حقوق العمال، خلال جميع مراحل مسيرة العمل.
وقال البيان «سوف نستمر في مراجعة وتعديل القوانين للتأكد من أن منهجنا في عملية الإصلاح يتناسب مع أهدافنا».

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Author: BBC Arabic

ألغت قطر نظام "الكفالة" الذي يجبر العمال الأجانب على الحصول على إذن من صاحب العمل قبل تغيير الوظيفة أو مغادرة البلاد .وأعلنت الحكومة أن قانونا جديدا قائما على العقد بين العامل وصاحب العمل سيحل محل نظام الكفالة، لضمان قدر أكبر من المرونة والحماية.

لكن منظمة العفو الدولية تقول إن هذا الإجراء لن يؤدي إلى تغييرات كبيرة. وقال جيمس لينش، من منظمة العفو الدولية: "هذا القانون الجديد قد يلغي كلمة كفالة، لكنه سيبقي نفس النظام الأساسي على حاله."

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