from the desk

Qatar Today - - FROMT THE DESK - SINDHU NAIR Man­ag­ing Edi­tor

I re­mem­ber that morn­ing in May, 2014 when a room full of jour­nal­ists and other of­fi­cials gath­ered to hear from the Min­istry of Labour and So­cial Af­fairs. The whole ex­er­cise was branded; from press iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards and mupis, to the back­drop of the con­fer­ence hall clearly shout­ing out its pur­pose: the in­tro­duc­tion of wide-rang­ing labour mar­ket re­forms by the Qatari gov­ern­ment.

We jour­nal­ists were ready to jot down his­tory when it was be­ing an­nounced, and this time there was a gen­eral sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion that Qatar would be the first to break the anath­ema of the Mid­dle East em­ployer-driven mar­ket, be­ing the pur­suers of “kafala”, or bonded labour. And when the changes were fi­nally an­nounced, an hour later than in­tended, it shocked ev­ery­one present. “Was this the wide-rang­ing re­form that were promised? Did we miss any im­por­tant Ara­bic an­nounce­ment?” the jour­nal­ists asked each other. Two years and seven months later, when the law has fi­nally been put into prac­tice, we still have the same reser­va­tion: have we re­ally missed some­thing vi­tal, or will this be all that is parted with? There is no deny­ing that there have been suf­fi­cient re­forms to cheer about like the def­i­nite term con­tracts drawn be­tween the em­ployee and the em­ployer and which will shall not ex­ceed a pe­riod of five years, work­ers with def­i­nite term job con­tracts can change their em­ploy­ment and sign new con­tracts if they wish so at the end of the con­tract pe­riod with­out any NOC but af­ter ap­provals from the Min­istry of In­te­rior and the Min­istry of Labour and So­cial Af­fairs. The best of the re­forms is the re­peal of the two-year ban.

Qatar To­day tries to looks deep into the law and pick out the pos­i­tives and pon­ders the road­blocks that pre­vent the coun­try from hav­ing a labour mar­ket that is free from the per­ils of bonded labour, for it is al­ways the hu­man re­source mar­kets that re­flect the health of a coun­try's econ­omy. We need to re­flect on what Adam Smith high­lighted many years ago, “Labour was the first price, the orig­i­nal pur­chase, money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or sil­ver but by labour that all things of wealth was orig­i­nally pur­chased.” And is it this wealth that we have left be­hind in the pur­suit of other sources of af­flu­ence? Happy Read­ing.

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