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Qatar backtracks on labour reforms

Despite assurance that it intends to improve and reform labour laws, Qatar's government has once again stymied implementation by delaying a vote on the system that ties migrant workers to their employers

Qatar has once again delayed enforcing labour law changes around its much-criticised kafala system.
Qatar has once again delayed enforcing labour law changes around its much-criticised kafala system.

Qatar has again delayed voting on its pledge to reform the worker sponsorship system, which will tie workers to employers.

Depite ongoing calls from human rights campaigners and Amnesty International to implement reforms around Qatar's kafala system of labour, the country has once again postponed moving forward on its assurances of implementing changes.

Qatar’s shura council’s postponement of the vote dealt a further blow to rights groups’ hopes of ending the kafala system and implementing changes by the end of this year.

The kafala system ties workers to their employers and prevents them from changing jobs or leaving the country without the permission of their sponsors.

Reports suggest that many labourers have had their passports confiscated or gone months without pay.

Following a Guardian investigation and in-depth reports from rights organisations such as Amnesty International, even modest reforms promised by the Qatari government have become bogged down in bureaucracy.

Qatar's official state news agency, QNA, said that the shura council, Doha’s main consultative body, had postponed a vote on the reforms and referred them back to the internal and foreign affairs committee “for further study”. The news comes despite earlier assurances from experts, less than a fortnight ago, that if a draft law is at the Advisory Council, it should be considered to be in its last stages of approval.

Draft laws are referred to the Advisory Council by the State Cabinet after its initial approval. The revised legislation is seeking to regulate the entry, exit and residence of expatriates, and will be referred to the state’s leadership if approved by the council.

Last year, an investigation by the Guardian revealed that Nepalese migrants working on infrastructure to host the World Cup have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014 – despite Qatar’s promises to improve their working conditions.

Mustafa Qadri, Gulf migrants researcher at Amnesty International, said that the council’s action, if true, “would represent a significant backward step in the long, slow and up until now, largely unsuccessful bid to improve migrant labour rights protections in Qatar”.

“I hope this report is a misrepresentation, otherwise it would suggest the shura is in denial about the scale of migrant labour abuse,” he told the Guardian.

Qadri added: “It would also fly totally in the face of commitments made by senior Qatari officials like the Minister of Labour in recent months promising to implement limited reforms aimed at making it easier for migrant workers to change jobs, leave the country, among other things.”

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