Qatar’s Labor Law Reforms!

Latest Update on 14/5/2014 at 17:00:

The highlights of today announcement on proposed changes are as follows:

  • Replacing current Kafala system with a system based on employment contracts.
  • Current exit permit system which requires the employer’s consent for an employee to leave the country, will now be replaced with an automated system through the Ministry of Interior. The system will automatically grant an exit permit to an employee after a 72-hour grace period prior to departure.
  • with the new law the employer will no longer be financially liable for their employee. Any financial obligations incurred by the employee while in Qatar will be governed by State’s Civil and Commercial law.
  • No Objection Certificates (NOC), will be replaced with an employment contract system. If the employment contract is for a fixed term, the employee may transfer the job at the end of that term. If it is on an indefinite duration, he may transfer after five years from the date of the contract.
  • All existing contracts will remain valid until employers bring them in line with the new model contract within a one year grace period from the time the new law goes into effect.
  • Penalty for passport confiscation will be increased to QAR 50,000 per passport for employers who confiscate an employee’s passport.
  • One of the labour law reform will require the payment of wages electronically to ensure transparency, monitoring and timely payment.
  • The State of Qatar has now adopted a unified accommodation standard to guarantee the quality of housing for all workers in Qatar.

MOI Press Conference

The State of Qatar announced today its intention to enact wide-ranging labour market reforms, to strengthen existing labour laws and improve the living and working conditions of all workers in Qatar.

It was announced during a press conference held on Wednesday, May 14 2014 at St. Regis Hotel, Doha. The conference was attended by Brig. Muhammad Ahmad Al Atiq, the Asstant Director of General Directorate of Border Passports and Expatriates Affairs, Col. Abdullah Saqr al Muhannadi, Director of Human Rights Department under Ministry of Interior (MoI), Ali Ahmad al Khulafi, Director of the Planning and Quality Department under Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOLSA), Saleh Saeed Al Shawi, Director of Labour Relations Department of MOLSA.

A comprehensive set of measures will be enshrined in Qatari law to allow for the implementation of new reform mechanisms. These measures are in line with Qatar’s commitment to social development as outlined in the Qatar National Vision 2030. The State of Qatar will work closely with internal and external stakeholders in the coming months to strengthen protections for both the employers and employees in Qatar to ensure sustainable reform.

The current Kafala system will be replaced with a system based on employment contracts. The current exit permit system, which requires the employer’s consent for an employee to leave the country, will now be replaced with an automated system through the Ministry of Interior. The “Metrash2” e-government system will automatically grant an exit permit to an employee after a 72-hour grace period prior to departure.

In addition, with the new law the employer will no longer be financially liable for their employee. Any financial obligations incurred by the employee while in Qatar will be governed by State’s Civil and Commercial law.

No Objection Certificates, which currently regulate the transfer of employees to different employers, will be replaced with an employment contract system. If the employment contract is for a fixed term, the employee may transfer to another employer at the end of that term. If the employment contract is on an indefinite duration, the employee may transfer to another employer after five years from the date of the contract. A model employment contract will be distributed which includes the new terms and conditions contained in the laws and employers can add other conditions to the model contract as long as they are consistent with the new law. All existing contracts will remain valid until employers bring them in line with the new model contract within a one year grace period from the time the new law goes into effect.

When the new law goes in to effect, the illegal practice of passport confiscation will be addressed by an increase of current penalty of a maximum of QAR 10,000 to up to QAR 50,000 for employers who confiscate an employee’s passport. This penalty will be imposed per conviction for every passport confiscated to act as a powerful deterrent to this illegal practice. For example, if an employer has been found to have confiscated ten passports, the court can sentence the employer to a fine of up to 500,000 riyals.

The existing labour law will be reformed to further improve the living and working conditions of workers in Qatar. One reform will require the payment of wages electronically to ensure transparency, monitoring and timely payment. The State of Qatar has now adopted a unified accommodation standard to guarantee the quality of housing for all workers in Qatar. In addition to the recent worker accommodations that has been buil by the Private Engineering Office and Barwa, the Ministry of Municipality & Urban Planning (MMUP) will oversee the construction of worker accommodations to house an additional 200,000 workers in accordance with the new accommodation standard this year.

Press Conference

In order to enhance enforcement of Qatar’s labour laws, amendments have been introduced to strengthen the penalty codes for labour law violations, including penalties for late payment of wages and violations of the new accommodation standards. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOLSA) is also continuing to hire and train labour inspectors with a target of 300 inspectors by the end of the year. These inspectors have judicial power to issue penalties for violations related to workers’ accommodation, work sites and occupational health and safety. MOLSA will be signing a Technical Cooperation Agreement with the International Labour Organization this year for further support enforcement mechanisms.

The State of Qatar will be making regular announcements in the coming months to provide further detail on the implementation of the new legislation and regular updates on reform mechanisms being put into place. The state will be working closely over the coming months with local and international companies to provide support during this transition period.

Earlier News

The Ministry of Interior has scheduled a press conference this afternoon to announce amendments to Qatar’s existing labor laws.

Senior officials within the Ministry confirmed last week that the changes would come “very soon” and it seems the long wait is finally about to pay-off.

However, residents are still anxious to know if the changes will be in favour of the working class.

The announcement could also be a prompt response to pressure from several foreign organisations like Amnesty International to relax certain labor laws and give the working class more rights.

Observers have been eagerly awaiting the government’s response to a report on the living and working conditions of blue-collar workers in this country that was submitted earlier this month by international law firm DLA Piper.

The company was hired by the Qatar government last fall in the aftermath of a series of critical articles by the western newspapers alleging the abuse of migrant workers.

One area that’s likely to be changed is the country’s exit permit system, which requires expats to obtain their sponsor’s permission before leaving the country.

Supporters of the current exit permit system in Qatar’s business community have justified the current rules on the grounds that it minimizes economic hardships caused by the unexpected departure of key employees. They also say it prevents expats from taking out loans or writing company checks to themselves before fleeing the country.

Critics respond that the exit permit system is a blunt tool for dealing with these small number of cases and invites abuse, such as in the well-publicized case of French footballer Zahir Belounis, who was told by his sponsor that he could not leave Qatar until he dropped a lawsuit seeking unpaid wages.

Other reforms sought by human rights advocates in recent years – which may or may not be addressed today – include:

  • Giving workers the right to form unions;
  • Increasing access to the justice system by hiring more translators and eliminating the fee required to hire an expert when filing a labor court case;
  • Loosen restrictions on foreigners changing jobs;
  • Improve living conditions in labor camps;
  • Stronger safety regulations on construction sites;
  • Establishment of a minimum wage; and
  • Expand the labor law to cover domestic workers.

The Ministry has already taken steps to protect labour rights like implementing the Wage Protection System, which will be closely monitored by the government. The WPS will help to keep employers in check that refuse to pay salaries to their employees.