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Thu 15 May 2014 01:07 PM

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'Modern slavery' still in Qatar despite new labour law

Human rights groups say Qatar’s decision to abolish controversial sponsorship system is only a 'change of name'

'Modern slavery' still in Qatar despite new labour law
(Getty Images - Photo for illustrative purpose only)

International human rights groups have criticised Qatar’s new labour reforms, claiming “modern slavery” will still exist and the changes will make it easier for employers to hire migrant workers.

Qatar said on Wednesday it would abolish its controversial sponsorship system for foreign workers amid growing international criticism of working conditions in the Gulf state.

The kafala system would be replaced with “a system based on employment contracts", a statement cited by news agency AFP said.

The reforms will also end the longstanding requirement that foreign workers obtain their employer's consent before leaving the country.

However, Amnesty International, which has led criticism of the Gulf state’s treatment of foreign workers, said the changes fell “far short” of what was needed to address “systemic abuse”.

"Based on today’s announcement the proposals appear to be a missed opportunity. The government claims it is abolishing the sponsorship system, but this sounds like a change of name rather than substantive reform,” Amnesty International’s researcher on migrants’ rights in the Gulf James Lynch said.

“In particular, it remains unclear how proposed reforms to the exit permit will work in practice, and whether under the new proposal employers will retain the ability to object to workers leaving the country.”

A report by international law firm DLA Piper, commissioned by the Qatari government, also was released on Wednesday.

It found systemic abuse of migrant workers and was highly critical of several aspects of Qatar’s laws and policies, including the kafala system, which it says “is no longer the appropriate tool for the effective control of migration in Qatar”.

It confirmed more than 900 migrant workers had died in the past few years.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITCU), which also has led calls for worker reform, said the changes also failed to address the “multiple violations of international labour standards” and “modern slavery” would continue.

The organisation said despite removing the right of the employer to give permission for a worker to leave the country, exit visas would still exist, with the Interior Ministry now making the decision.

“There is no freedom of association, no minimum wage, and no effective labour compliance system,” an ITCU statement says.

“None of the laws seem to apply to domestic workers.

“No moves were announced to stop the death and injury toll amongst the migrant workforce.

“While freedom of movement for workers should always be respected, with the removal of the ‘no objection certificate’, the employer still sets the contract, the wage, and employees cannot join a union and negotiate.

“All these laws do is make it easier for employers to recruit staff as the World Cup infrastructure programme expands.”

Lynch said restrictions on migrants’ ability to leave Qatar constituted a breach of the right to freedom of movement.

However, he said some of the changes were positive.

The government has announced increased penalties for breaching the Labour Law and confiscating passports, and increased recruitment of labour inspectors.

“While some of the measures announced today are positive and if implemented would improve conditions for workers, they do not go nearly far enough,” Lynch said.

“Rather than re-jigging and renaming the sponsorship system, the government should commit now to genuine deep-rooted reform.

“Also, concrete measures tackling access to justice, health care and holding the private sector accountable for abuses against migrant workers, must be put in place.”

Both organisations criticised the lack of a time-frame for implementing the reforms.

Qatari 5 years ago

Arabian Business .. Courtney Trenwith .. no surprise.

Marwan 5 years ago

Misleading title. Although I'm a strong supporter of the new UNOFFICIAL (yet to be finalised) laws, this article falls short of communicating the truth. The title serves to simply raise controversy on a platform that is meant to serve the GCC region. The public message that was communicated yesterday approximately 24+ hours ago was meant to introduce some of the new laws and corrections that the government will be making to better help expatriate workers. Upon final approval of the laws, everyone will start taking corrective action to better help, secure, and protect these workers. Only then, and if no change was made as a result, can you make such blasphemous statements about a country.

Global Citizen 5 years ago

These so called reforms and changes that are being announced have been in discussion over the past decade.
With MOI owning the right to choose who to give an exit permit to , one thing that everyone is overlooking is that every Qatari in some way or another is connected, and hence can severely tamper with exit permits even if they are issued by MOI.
There are no laws in Qatar other than the laws of "Wasta" a.k.a Influence and connection, its solely based on who you know and who he or she knows.
Nothing shocking here. Just words. And dates are still to be announced.

mohammad 5 years ago

Really i would like to appliciate the new qatar labour law.and we that the new reform will be considered stright from the companies that employs the foreign wokers becouse those companies has gone extremly to mistreat the labours due to pay them little wedges forcing them doing heavy work retaining there passports..forcing them to sign contructs and refuse to give the copies..etc we highly request the qatar government and organisation to help foreigner workers in mostly constraction companies etc and we are highly request the qatar government to take a serious investgation deeply to those companies they get realise the right picture to how labour are hundled in qatar and we also request government to take action about how labour are paid in qatar atleast government should take contral of paying the labour it self.thanks so much you consideration is highly appliciated....

John 5 years ago

Easy lecturing about blasphemous statements sitting in Canada. Slavery does not mean chains and whips. When an employer can force an employee to work even if the employee wants to resign, it is one form of slavery. Did you know that a worker can be arrested and jailed for not showing up to work in some of the Gulf countries?
How is this not one form of slavery?

cant say 5 years ago

Hi, My Husband works in a private company in Qatar. His boss had promised a few things but not on paper.
1) family will be called in 2 months
2) will be given 2 employees under him
3) will be given a furnished house
4) one month leave on completing a year

It has been over a year and non of the the above was given. his boss is makin him handle 27 accounts single handedly. his boss screams at him like he is a slave if anything goes wrong in the team whether its his fault or not.. well my husband is suicidal now but he cannot afford to comeback..
I convinced him to quit. But his boss did not accept his resignation. So to help him out I got a job in qatar and I am here on a 2 year contract. As soon as his boss found out about it, he fired my husband. I love my husband and I lived without him for a year. And now his boss fired him coz I managed to come on my own. Again another year and a half without my husband. Well you guys have no idea how employers use these rules to ruin peoples lives

Siraj Uddin 5 years ago

While what happened is not good it is not Qatars fault. The situation of Mexican workers in the US or African workers in Europe is no better. Workers everywhere are exploited and you cannot blame the country for that.

procan 5 years ago

Siraj ....... you might want to stay focused on Middle East Labour issues. As a very frequent visitor to Mexico . Qatari treatment of labours would not be as excepting as what you see in your labour force . Raising a hand to a proud Mexican will bring you a whole lot of hurt. When a Mexican labourer want to go to the bathroom or have a midday nap in the work day do not even think about stopping them with your job site security they will shut you down in a blink of a eye. They are subservient to no abuser of there personal freedoms reguardless of wealth or position. Try not paying a Mexican there wage in a timely manner they would burn you down.

Paul 5 years ago

Dear Noon,
I have worked in the 5 continents and I have never seen so much abuse in so rich countries.
The civilizational state does not allow yet the realization of the impact of so much systematic abuse that is deliberately facilitated and allowed in these countries, at all levels starting from the top.

Expat from Reasonland 5 years ago

I look forward to the day when gas prices collapse and these people have to pump their own gas and clean their toilets themselves. This culture nurtures and pampers prejudices instead of fostering a climate of tolerance. I pity the children growing up amidst this myopic mindset begotten by inheritance. They may grow up to be revolting monsters.
Qatar epitomizes the cliché of the newly rich.