Qatar changes labour laws to protect migrant workers


The Emir of Qatar has signed on Sunday two news laws which could strike at the heart of the abusive kafala system, but full implementation remains key if the country aims to truly end labour exploitation, Amnesty International said.

The first law abolished restrictions on migrant workers changing jobs without their employer’s permission and the second law introduced a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals, plus basic living allowances for some workers.

“For too long, laws that ban workers from changing jobs without their employer’s permission, along with widespread low pay, have left migrant workers in Qatar at the mercy of abusive employers,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice.

“We welcome the enactment of these laws, and now call on the Qatari authorities to ensure they are swiftly and properly implemented.”

“This is an encouraging sign that Qatar may finally be heading in the right direction, and we call on Qatar to go further with these reforms, including removing the charge of absconding, to make sure that the rights of all workers are fully protected,”Cockburn continued.

The two reforms were first announced by the Emir of Qatar in October 2019 and were signed into lawon Sunday.

The first will abolish the ‘No-objection certificate’ which prevents migrant workers from changing jobs without the permission of their employer.

Under the new law, workers will be able to leave their job by providing a one-month written notice if they have worked for the employer for less than two years, or a two month notice if they have worked for them for longer.

The worker will not have to pay these costs, and the transfer request would be processed by the Ministry of Labour.

However, the reforms have not removed the ability of employers to file criminal ‘absconding’ charges against workers who leave their job without permission. Employers will also remain responsible for renewing and cancelling their workers’ residence permits, thus retaining considerable power over their employees.

The second reform introduces a 1,000 Qatari riyal monthly minimum wage (US$275/UK£211), plus allowances of 300 QAR for food and 500 QAR for accommodation if these are not provided by the company.

This wage applies to everyone, including domestic workers who have previously been excluded from reform measures.

In 2019, the ILO conducted a study to advice on setting a minimum wage level. The study has not been made public, but media reports last year suggest it recommended a minimum wage of at least 1,250 QAR.

The minimum wage replaces a temporary minimum wage of 750 QAR introduced in 2017, although some nationalities already had higher minimum wages negotiated via bilateral agreements. Nepali workers were already paid a minimum of 900 QAR, for example, and Filipino workers 1,400 QAR per month. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)