Links Group says wage system will bring transparency; other groups say Qatar’s wider labour reforms are a ‘sham’
The Qatar wage protection system (WPS), which came into effect on November 2, will bring much needed transparency to the payment of low-income employees, particularly those in the construction sector, the Links Group has said.
The WPS, which was announced in February, is a mandatory system designed to ensure that workers in the private sector get paid on time.
Employers are expected to transfer salaries into workers’ accounts in Qatar-based financial institutions in a timely manner. Should they fail to do so, they will be liable to a jail term not exceeding one month, or a fine of QR2,000 to QR6,000. In some cases, both penalties could be applied.
The new system is being implemented based on amendments to Labour Law No. 14 of 2004. A ministerial decision on WPS says that employees’ salaries must be transferred to their bank accounts by the seventh day of every month.
“The new wages protection system is one of the many steps Qatar is taking to protect their migrant labour force. While all Qatari-based businesses must comply with WPS, the construction sector is likely to be impacted the most since it accounts for 40% of the country’s migrant workforce, many of whom are low-income earners,” said John Martin St Valery, founding partner of Links Group, which specialises in business services in the UAE and Qatar, in a comment on the new decree.
“It is also a sector that has come under criticism for late or non-payment of salaries to employees. With WPS now in place, the government will be able to reconcile the employees sponsored by the company to their labour contracts and finally to the bank salary transfer. In this way appropriate action can be taken against companies who do not meet their salary obligations to staff,” he added.
The Qatari government issued the mandatory WPS for low-income private sector workers in February, giving companies a six-month period to comply with the new system, which was then postponed until November 2015.
According to a report by Gulf Times, the Labour and Social Affairs Minister HE Abdullah Saleh Mubarak al-Khulaifi recently said there would be no extension of this grace period and the system would be enforced from November 2. The minister has been authorised to frame and enforce executive regulations to help implement its provisions.
The law suggests that not only wages but all types of payments, including allowances and perks, must be paid to workers only electronically.
The Labour Ministry has said that the WPS will allow for the creation of a national database that would record wage payments in the private sector and guarantee timely and full payment to workers.
The move is part of wider reform of labour conditions in Qatar, which has also seen changes to its “kafala” sponsorship system, which has faced strong criticism as it restricts workers’ ability to leave the country or switch jobs.
Rights groups have however dismissed Qatar’s wider labour reforms as a “sham”.
“The new labour law does not abolish the notorious exit permits, and workers still have to get their employers’ permission to leave the country,” Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, was last month reported as saying by AFP.
Under the new rules, foreign workers wanting to exit Qatar reportedly need to apply for permission from the interior ministry at least 72 hours beforehand.