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Tue 24 Feb 2015 03:16 PM

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Amended Qatar labour law set to be implemented - lawyers

Reforms will include workers being paid wages via bank transfers; rights groups urge proper enforcement

Amended Qatar labour law set to be implemented - lawyers
(AFP/Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

An amended labour law is finally due to be implemented in Qatar, according to lawyers operating in the Gulf state.

In a new proposal to introduce a major labour reform for migrant workers, wages will be paid through direct bank transfers, making it easier to track those employers that do not comply with the new law.

Approved by the Emir of Qatar, His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the changes will see workers get paid at least once a month and in some cases every fortnight, Construction Week Online reported on Tuesday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Nicholas McGeehan gave a cautious welcome to the changes announced in Doha. “It is a positive step as long as it is properly enforced,” he said.

Amnesty International’s Mustafa Qadri described the plan as “a welcome development”, but urged Qatar to ensure it is properly implemented and to go even further. “These should be seen as the beginning of the reforms, not the end,” he said.

However, there was some dissatisfaction that the mooted changes did not address the controversial ‘kafala’ sponsorship system, which rights groups and global football union FIFPro have urged Qatar to abolish.

This enables employers to prevent foreign workers from leaving the country or changing jobs and has been likened to modern-day slavery.

Other areas where campaigners have called for change include the confiscation of passports by employers, workers not being issued an exit visa so they can leave Qatar, and migrant labourers having to pay recruitment fees.

With the advent of the new labour law, the much-awaited amended sponsorship and exit permit rules can also be expected soon, say lawyers.

The two laws are closely interlinked so it was necessary to amend the labour legislation first — to make way for the new sponsorship law to be issued.

The amended labour law makes it mandatory for the companies covered under it to electronically transfer the salary of their workers, making it easier to track those employers that do not comply with the new law.

Employers will have six months to implement the laws. If they do not, they could face up to one month in prison as well as a fine of up to QR6,000 ($1,650).

A new format of job contract is expected to be issued by the authorities concerned to accommodate the changes.

The format is expected to provide guidelines for clauses to be included in the job contracts on conditions for sponsorship change and entitlement to exit permit waiver or otherwise. For this, all companies might be required to change the job contracts of all their workers and follow the new format.

It is, therefore likely that the new labour law issued may be implemented together with the new sponsorship law, “which is anyway expected soon”, said Yusuf Al Zaman, a prominent lawyer.

Another lawyer confirmed that, although the only thing new in the amended labour law is that all companies must now transfer their workers’ wages electronically, to facilitate that, existing job contracts of all workers would need to be changed to follow a new format.

“These clauses will be a necessary part of all employment agreements considering that the new sponsorship law will most likely leave it to a worker to agree in writing with his employer on conditions for sponsorship change and exit permit requirements,” said the lawyer.

“So all job contracts will essentially be updated to accommodate the changes expected in the sponsorship and exit permit rules, there is no doubt about it.”

According to the lawyer, speculations in the Qatari community are rife about the nature of the sponsorship changes coming in.

“Some say they believe a state authority is being created that would be the sponsor of all foreign workers and they would be delegated to work with companies,” he said.

There is a local sentiment that employers are not happy to bring over foreign workers and spend time, effort and money to train them and they are then deserted after a fixed period, and search for another job, said the lawyer.

Al Zaman said that the new law (No 1 of 2015) is to be published in the official gazette and then implemented. “Although the official gazette is out every month, there is no information if the new labour law will be published in its next issue,” he said.

The official gazette is published by the Ministry of Justice and all Emiri decrees, new laws, cabinet and ministerial decisions are published in it.

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