Qatar sets out labour reforms after rights criticism, but no timetable
May 15, 2014 - Qatar unveiled plans for labour reforms on Wednesday after persistent
criticism from rights groups 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 and
a lack of workers' rights has attracted international attention as the country prepares
to host the 2022 soccer World Cup. Pressure on the Arab country 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. The proposals follow a Qatar-sponsored review of its labour
legislation by British-based law firm DLA Piper, which made a number of recommendations
including the creation of a minimum wage for each category of construction worker. The
International Trade Union Confederation (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. In response to the planned
reforms, the ITUC said the announcements gave no guarantee for workers in Qatar.
"No moves were announced to stop the death and injury toll amongst the migrant workforce,"
it said in a statement. The reforms envisaged do not include the creation of trade
unions or the establishment of a minimum wage. Officials outlining the changes at
a press conference said that wages were dictated by market supply and demand. 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. (Source: Reuters)