By Shane McGinley
Gulf state mulling future of 'kafala' system for migrant workers - Sheikh Hamad
Gas-rich Qatar is mulling an overhaul of its sponsorship system and plans to introduce the legal groundwork to one day allow parliamentary elections, its prime minister has said.
Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Al Thani, prime minister and foreign minister of the Gulf state, said Qatar is “seriously studying the sponsorship issue in the state.”
“The issue requires some legal procedures and others to be upgrade and developer,” he told reporters at the launch of the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) headquarters in Doha.
Any changes “preserve the rights of both the Qatari citizen and that of the labourer… or the rights of the person who comes to work in Qatar,” he said.
Qataris account for around a fifth of emirate’s population, with a significant percentage of the population comprising of foreign workers from Asia and Africa.
Under the ‘kafala’ system, nationals and companies can hire migrant workers who are dependent on their employers for food and shelter.
Many workers complain that agencies or employers confiscate their passports, do not pay them regularly or deduct housing or health costs from their pay.
Neighbouring Bahrain has scrapped its sponsorship system, while Kuwait is in the process of reforming its laws.
Qatar has taken steps to crack down on delayed salary payments, with Sheikh Hamad warning that employers “who fail to pay due salaries will be jailed until he pays.”
Addressing the issue of elections in Qatar, Sheikh Hamad also told reporters “elections should be held one day” and that legislative reform is underway to smooth the path.
Qatar’s 2005 constitution allows for a partly elected parliament. However, only municipal elections have so far been held in the country.
Across the GCC, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman have staged direct parliamentary elections.
The UAE held partial elections in 2006, while Saudi Arabia has failed to follow in the steps of neighbouring Gulf states.
Make it non-obligatory to be sponsored by a local Qatari citizen for qualified professionals, who can be their own independent business agents seeking gainful employment.