Qatar has announced sweeping reforms to its labour market, with a ruling to end the ‘kafala’ system, marking a momentous step forward in upholding the rights of millions of migrant workers, including those from Bangladesh.
“These reforms will benefit approximately 400,000 Bangladesh migrant workers in Qatar, 75 percent of whom are employed in the construction sector,” an International Labour Organization (ILO) press release quoted Country Director for Bangladesh, Tuomo Poutiainen, as saying here today.“By reforming the system, migrant workers will now have the freedom to change jobs, no longer rely on exit permits and see minimum wages for both migrant and national workers,” said ILO release.
The kafala (sponsorship) system emerged in the 1950’s to provide temporary, rotating labour that could be rapidly brought into the country during periods of economic boom and expelled during low-growth periods.
“It remains the routine practice in remaining Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as well as Jordan and Lebanon,” the release said.
On 16 October 2019, the Council of Ministers of the State of Qatar unanimously endorsed new legislation allowing workers to change employers freely. Workers in Qatar had previously required a no-objection certificate (NOC) from their employer.
A Ministerial Decree was also signed, removing exit permit requirements for all workers, except military personnel. Together, these steps mark the end of kafala in the country.
In addition, the Council of Ministers endorsed a new law to establish a non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first in the Middle-East. The legislation is expected to come into force by January 2020.“The ILO welcomes these reforms and recognises 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.” said Guy Ryder, the ILO Director General.
“This will improve the protection of migrant workers, as it will not only reduce the wage gap but also the labour rights gap that previously existed between migrant and national workers.”
The elimination of the NOC requirement will allow workers to freely change employers following an initial probationary period. Should they wish to change employers during this period, the new employer would need to reimburse recruitment costs to the original employer.
The decision on exit permits means that domestic workers; workers in government and public institutions; workers employed at sea and in agriculture; as well as casual workers are free to leave the country either temporarily or permanently without having to obtain the permission of their employers.
This covers all workers not covered by Law No. 13 of 2018, which removed the requirement to obtain exit permits for most workers covered by the Labour Law.
The establishment of a non-discriminatory minimum wage that applies to all nationalities and all sectors will guarantee a minimum level of protection for all workers. The minimum-wage level will be set later in the year, based on a joint study already completed by the ILO and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (ADLSA), the release added.