Labor Reforms Signal End of Kafala System in Qatar
Qatar has announced reforms aimed at ending the kafala system and therefore upholding the rights of migrant workers.
“Kafala” is an Arabic word which means “sponsorship.” Kafala is unique to the Middle East. The Kafala system allows nationals to employ non-Gulf nationals. The power is entirely in the hands of the employer/sponsor known as the kafeel. The kafeel can dictate the conditions and terms of work, including the accommodation of the work migrant. The subjugation of the Kafala system has resulted in migrant workers referring to the kafeel as their “owners.”
The new legislation announced by Qatar will allow workers to change employers freely: workers in Qatar had previously required a no-objection certificate from their employer to do so. A Ministerial Decree by the Minister of Interior has been signed, removing exit permit requirements for workers, and the Council of Ministers endorsed a new law to establish a non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first in the Middle-East. 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.
The decision on exit permits means that workers employed at sea, among others, are free to leave the country either temporarily or permanently without having to obtain the permission of their employers.
The respective draft laws will now be referred to the Advisory (Shura) Council, and subsequently for the approval and signature of the Emir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The legislation is expected to come into force by January 2020.
“Qatar is changing. The new tranche of laws will bring an end to kafala and put in place a modern industrial relations system. We recognize that a new evidence-based minimum wage rate will ensure dignity for migrant workers. We urge the government to announce this as quickly as possible. The partnership between the Qatar Government and the ILO, supported by the ITUC, is working to change lives,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.
The ITF, Human Rights at Sea and Justice Upheld have been involved in bringing the injustices of the Kafala system to light.