DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar’s ruler has introduced a law giving broad protection to tens of thousands of foreigners working as maids, cooks, cleaners and nannies, addressing some concerns long highlighted by human rights groups.
The new rules on foreign domestic staff mandate a maximum of 10 hours per working day with breaks for prayer, rest and eating, along with three weeks of severance pay at the end of their contracts.
They limit the working age to between 18 and 60, stipulate three weeks of annual vacation, and order that employers provide proper food and medical care.
Like other wealthy Gulf Arab states, Qatar hosts tens of thousands of mostly female domestic workers, mostly from the Philippines, South Asia and East Africa.
The measures appear to be the first in the gas-producing country to codify the rights of these employees. State news agency QNA said the measure was promulgated by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and was effective immediately.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have long complained that Gulf states do not properly regulate working conditions for low-income residents helping tend homes or toiling at ubiquitous construction sites.
They say excessively long hours and insufficient flexibility to change contracts or return home contravene international labour laws and deprive workers of their human rights.
HRW said in the Qatar section of its 2016 annual report that beyond exploitative working conditions, domestic workers were left vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse by a lack of regulations governing their rights.
The new law does not cover Qatar’s far more numerous construction workers, whose position was improved by a December 2016 law altering the “kafala” or sponsorship system that forced them to seek their employer’s consent to change jobs or leave the country.
Domestic workers continue to be recruited under the kafala system.
Qatar is keen to show it is tackling allegations of worker exploitation as it prepares to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, which it has presented as a showcase of its progress and development.
It is spending billions of dollars on stadiums and other infrastructure, and has imported hundreds of thousands of construction workers from countries such as India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has asked Qatar to present it with a report on the implementation of reforms to the sponsorship system by November.
Reporting by Noah Browning; Editing by Mark Trevelyan