* To replace sponsorship law with a type of employment
* But no minimum wage or trade unions envisaged
* Wages to be paid electronically to avoid late payments
By Amena Bakr
DOHA, May 14 Qatar unveiled plans for labour
reforms on Wednesday after persistent criticism from rights
group over its treatment of workers, but it set no timetable and
the changes would still leave employees without a minimum wage
or trade unions.
Qatar has the highest proportion of migrant workers per
population in the world.
Pressure on the Arab country, host of the 2022 soccer World
Cup, grew after Britain's Guardian newspaper reported in
September that dozens of Nepali construction workers had died
and that labourers were not given enough food and water. Qatari
and Nepali officials denied the report.
The proposed reforms include replacing a contentious
sponsorship law, known as "kafala", in which workers need their
employer's permission to change jobs, with a system based on
employment contracts, officials said in Doha. An exit permit law
requiring workers to obtain an employer's consent to leave Qatar
will also be reformed.
Officials announced the steps in response to a review of
labour legislation by a British-based law firm, which made a
number of recommendations including the creation of a minimum
wage for each category of construction worker.
The review, by law firm DLA Piper, also noted that Qatari
law does not provide a right to freedom of association and
collective bargaining for migrant workers.
The reforms envisaged do not include the creation of trade
unions or the establishment of a minimum wage. Officials at
Wednesday's press conference said that wages were dictated by
supply and demand in the market.
Under the reforms, workers will have their wages paid
electronically to avoid late payments. And the country would
adopt a "unified accommodation standard", a measure apparently
aimed at improving the quality of migrant workers' housing,
which is often spartan or squalid.
The officials also propose raising to 50,000 riyals
($13,700) from 10,000 riyals a fine for employers holding the
passport of an employee, a common practice among most
construction firms and other companies in Qatar. Currently the
fine is rarely enforced.
"Let it be clear the current kafala system will be replaced
with a system based on employment contracts and that will govern
the relationship between the employer and employee," said
Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi, director of the human rights
department at the ministry of interior.
But these proposals would now have to go through the Shura
Council, a consultative body, as well as Qatar's chamber of
commerce and government departments prior to their conversion
into law, said Muhammad Ahmed al-Atiq, assistant director
general of expatriate affairs at the ministry of interior.
"God willing we hope that this will happen soon, but its
hard to put a timeframe," he said.
Unions are banned in Qatar, the world's top exporter of
liquefied natural gas, and workers who strike in protest are
In response, the International Trade Union Confederation
(ITUC) said the announcements gave no guarantee for workers in
"No moves were announced to stop the death and injury toll
amongst the migrant workforce," it said in a statement. The ITUC
has said more than 1,200 men have died in preparations since the
World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010. Qatar has said no
construction workers have died working on a World Cup site.
According to DLA Piper's report, Qatar has 1.39 million
migrant workers, which makes its the highest migrant to citizen
ratio in the world, with migrant workers making up 85 percent of
the population. DLA's report also found that the prescribed
accommodation standards, which allow a maximum of four people in
a room, are not being met by some contractors.
($1 = 3.6407 Qatar riyals)
(Writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by William Maclean and Susan