Qatar to abolish sponsorship scheme for workers

Move part of labour reforms announced by government

Picture for illustrative purposes only.
Picture for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar is to abolish its controversial sponsorship system for foreign workers amid growing international criticism of working conditions in the Gulf state.

The kafala system "will be replaced with a system based on employment contracts", as part of a package of labour reforms, said a statement from the Ministry of Interior.

The government also plans to increase penalties for employers who confiscate the passports of migrant workers to QR50,000 ($13,700) from QR10,000, and stiffen penalties for failures to pay wages on time or provide adequate information.

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

Under the new rules, employers will no longer be financially responsible for their employees.

It is understood changes have still to be approved by Qatar's Shoura Council.

"The current exit permit system, which requires the employers' consent for an employee to leave the country, will now be replaced with an automated system through the ministry of interior," the statement said.

Qatar's treatment of its massive foreign workforce has been under the international spotlight as it launches a massive construction programme for the infrastructure for the world football showcase in 2022.

But the statement on Wednesday, which is to be followed by further announcements clarifying the exact detail of the proposals, sought to put an end to poor living and working conditions. That includes radical changes to payment of labourers and the construction of more accomodation.

It said: "The existing labour law will be reformed to further improve the living and working conditions of workers in Qatar. One reform will require the payment of wages electronically to ensure transparency, monitoring and timely payment.

"The State of Qatar has now adopted a unified accommodation standard to guarantee the quality of housing for all workers in Qatar.

"In addition to the recent worker accommodations that has been built by the Private Engineering Office and Barwa, the Ministry of Municipality & Urban Planning (MMUP) will oversee the construction of worker accommodations to house an additional 200,000 workers in accordance with the new accommodation standard this year."

In an interview in this week's Construction Week, Nazih Abdul Kader, executive vice-president of opreations at Consolidated Constractors Company, described the proposed changes to the labour laws as "a boon for all good companies as dissatisfied workers from badly-managed companies would move".

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