Qatar ‘tweaks’ kafala system for expats
DUBAI: Qatar announced yesterday it is introducing long-expected reforms to policies governing its vast foreign-labor force, though the changes still require workers to seek clearance from their bosses before leaving the country. The new policies follow years of intense criticism from labor and human rights activists over working conditions in Qatar. The natural gas-rich country is in the midst of a torrid building boom tied to its hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
Critics say Qatar’s long-standing “kafala” sponsorship system binding workers to their employer leaves migrants open to abuse, and in some cases can amount to forced labor. Qatar touted the reforms as abolishing the kafala system altogether. Rights groups say the changes fall far short of what is needed to protect the armies of mostly Asian low-wage workers transforming the tiny country.
A statement released by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs said the changes are intended to ensure “greater flexibility, freedom and protection” to the more than 2.1 million workers in Qatar. The minister responsible for labor, Issa bin Saad Al-Jafali Al-Nuaimi, said Qatar welcomes constructive criticism and he urged outsiders to give the law time to take root before drawing any conclusions. He said the ministry is boosting its monitoring efforts and hiring more labor inspectors to enforce compliance. “We are doing this because we believe it is the right thing to do and because it provides tangible new benefits to expatriate workers,” Nuaimi said.
DOHA: Migrant workers are seen walking next to a construction site in the Qatari capital on Dec 6, 2016. (Inset) Qatari Labor Minister Issa bin Saad Al-Nuaimi holds a press conference on reforming Qatar’s labor laws and practices yesterday.