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Qatar’s New Labour Reforms Gets Appreciation From Human Rights Watch

Photo: The Peninsula

Qatar reaffirmed its commitment to protect the rights of workers by reforming its labour laws in line with international labour standards and the guidance of ILO, a senior official told who added that, Qatar is open to suggestions and aims to be a model of best practice for workers rights.

“The State of Qatar will ensure, in coordination with NGOs, that workers’ rights are secure, while continuing to develop and reform our laws,” Saif bin Ahmed Al Thani, the Director of Government Communication Office, tweeted yesterday commenting on the statement issued by the ILO.

Qatar’s minimum wage initiative aiming to “meet the necessary needs of the worker to live at an appropriate humanitarian level” was commended by international organisations.

The latest decision is a step in the right direction, however the implementation factor will be the most important and decisive factor, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said. The steps taken were considered as path-breaking step for Gulf nations, where migrants make up most of the labour force.

Doha pledged a series of important labour reforms. These are outlined in an ILO document where Qatar expressed a commitment to the ILO to institute a minimum wage, allow the monitoring of labour practices by independent experts, and reform the kafala (sponsorship) system.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said: “Qatar’s decision to allow the monitoring of labour practices could help protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who toil in sometimes hazardous or even life-threatening conditions.”

She added: “The kafala system is Gulf-wide; other countries in the region should take similar steps.” However the organisation said the ILO document provides few details about how the laws will be amended, implemented and timeframe set for their implementation.

Qatar also signed bilateral agreements with 36 countries which export workforce to Qatar, it provides legal protection for workers coming to the Gulf. Also on October 26, Qatar’s Cabinet approved establishment of a “Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund,” including minimum wage. The fund will be created with legal entity aiming to provide sustainable financial resources for the support and insurance of workers.

The cooperation agreement, according to the ILO document, includes a labor inspection policy, again without providing much detail but stipulating that inspections should increase and include large-scale projects such as those for the 2022 World Cup.

The ILO document cites a Qatari government communication with the organization dated October 2 that references Law no. 13 of 2017, an August 16 amendment to Labor Law No. 14 of 2004, that obliges workers and employers to refer disputes, such as exit visas and employment contracts, to a Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs body.

In case the dispute is not settled, the matter will be handed over to the dispute resolution committee within the same ministry, the disputes should then be resolved within three weeks.

The communication states that the rules and procedures of the committee are pending approval by H H the Emir. Human Rights Watch urges passage of clear rules and procedures that put a definitive end to the kafala system and bring Qatar’s labor laws into full compliance with ILO standards.

Nearly two million migrant workers reside in Qatar which constitutes 95% percent of the total workforce. The ILO outlined a technical cooperation agreement with Qatar that will focus on extensive reforms of the kafala system, institute a nondiscriminatory minimum wage, improve payment of wages, end document confiscation, enhance labour inspections and occupational safety and health systems, refine the contractual system to improve labor recruitment procedures, and increase prevention of forced labour.

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