Qatar has scrapped a rule requiring employers’ consent to change jobs and said it will also implement a basic monthly minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($274).
Sunday’s landmark announcement by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) is the latest in a series of labour reforms by the country whose treatment of migrant workers and its human rights record have been under the spotlight since it was awarded the hosting of football’s 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Under Qatar’s “kafala” (Arabic word for sponsorship) system, migrant workers needed to obtain their employer’s permission – a no-objection certificate (NOC) – before changing jobs, a law that rights activists said tied their presence in the country to their employers and led to abuse and exploitation.
With the announcement, migrant workers can now change jobs before the end of their contract subject to a notice period.
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“Either party must provide one month written notice in the first two years of the contract or two months’ notice beyond the second year of the contract,” the MADLSA said in a statement.
It added that the ministry will be “working with employers to update all employment contracts where workers earn less than the amount established by the new law [minimum wage], which will come into force after 6 months of its publication in the official gazette”.
Earlier this month, Al Jazeera reported how migrant workers said they were struggling to survive in Qatar due to salary delays, non-payment of dues and NOC restrictions.
A report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the country’s “efforts to protect migrant workers’ right to accurate and timely wages have largely proven unsuccessful”.
Addressing these issues, the MADLSA statement added: “As part of our efforts to boost the effectiveness of the Wage Protection System, the new amendments … prescribe stricter penalties for employers who fail to pay their workers’ wages and introduce penalties for employers who fail to provide adequate accommodation for their workers.”
In addition to the minimum wage, the ministry has also announced the provision of 500 riyals ($137) for accommodation and 300 riyals ($82.2) for food if those expenses are not provided as part of the contract.
The new laws have been welcomed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) which described the announcement as a “huge milestone in labour reform agenda for the state of Qatar”.
“The NOC was the last problematic part of the kafala system, this power imbalance that was created between an employee and the sponsor will no longer be there,” Houtan Homayounpour, head of the ILO project office for Qatar, told Al Jazeera.
“This will benefit workers, employer and the country. Employers will be able to look for workers that really match the job they have to offer and workers will be able to look for jobs that are more appropriate for them. This really dismantles the kafala system.
“The minimum wage law change really ensures a minimum standard of living and working for all workers from all over the world in all sectors.”
Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, described the development as “a new dawn for migrant workers in Qatar to have a fair system, to end the kafala system and normalise contracts with appropriate provisions”.
“It has been a long journey,” she added. “Frankly it will make the World Cup a much more secure environment for workers knowing that they have secured an industrialised work relations system.”