Qatar Says Will Introduce Pay Reform for Migrant Workers

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

Published Thursday, February 19, 2015

Qatar said Thursday it will introduce a major labor law reform to ensure thousands of workers building venues for the 2022 World Cup are paid on time, after complaints by rights groups.

The changes by the future hosts of football's biggest tournament, approved by Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will see workers get paid at least once a month and in some cases every fortnight.

The move could head off some criticism of Qatar which has come under mounting international pressure to improve conditions for migrant laborers working on projects for the World Cup.

The announcement comes before the international spotlight is bound to fall on Qatar again as FIFA officials visit Doha early next week to finalize a date for the controversial tournament. Under the proposal, wages will be paid through direct bank transfers which should, in theory, make it easier to track those employers that do not comply with the new law.

It is not yet clear when the reforms will be introduced, but employers will have six months to implement them. If they do not, they could face up to one month in prison as well as a fine of up to 6,000 Qatari Riyals ($1,650).

The Qatari government said on Wednesday night that it was about to announce the reforms but details about what the changes actually entailed were only given on Thursday.

Non-payment of migrant workers, especially those in the construction sector, has become a sensitive issue for Qatar.

Last November, Amnesty International accused the government in Doha of not doing enough on the issue of non-payment despite intense scrutiny after Qatar was chosen as the World Cup host. And earlier this year, lack of progress on the issue was again highlighted, this time by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Is Qatar ”avoiding the core problem?”

HRW's Qatar researcher, Nicholas McGeehan gave a cautious welcome to the changes announced in Doha.

"Of course it's good," he told AFP. "It is a positive step as long as it is properly enforced."

He said the reform would also impact on a "very substantial number of workers" across the Qatari economy, not just those in construction.

A 2013 academic study, "A Portrait of Low-Income Migrants in Contemporary Qatar," found that 21 percent of migrant workers in Qatar "received their salary on time only sometimes, rarely, or never."

However, there was some disappointment that the changes announced did not address the controversial "kafala" sponsorship system, which rights groups and FIFPro global football union have urged Qatar to abolish. It enables employers to prevent foreign workers from leaving the country or changing jobs and has been likened to modern-day slavery.

"That's a concern," said McGeehan. "Why is this area changing first? Are they working around the edges and avoiding the core problem?"

Qatar is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that also includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and United Arab Emirates. All GCC countries have come under fire for the kafala system, which is used to varying extents across the Gulf.

Other areas where campaigners have called for change include issues such as the confiscation of passports by employers, workers not being issued an exit visa so they can leave Qatar, and migrant laborers having to pay recruitment fees.

The Gulf state, which sits on the world's third largest gas reserves, is seeking to become a global leader in sporting events, having hosted the handball World Cup last month, and is expected to bid for the Summer Olympics.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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