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Qatar rejects criticism of labour reforms

Gulf state has scrapped the controversial ‘kafala’ sponsorship system governing foreign workers

Image for illustrative purposes only. (Shutterstock)

Qatar has rejected criticism made by Amnesty International over changes the Gulf state has made to its labour laws.

The country has ended its controversial ‘kafala’ system, under which foreign workers are obliged to seek their employer’s permission to change jobs or leave the country.

The system has been replaced with a contract-based law, which came into force on December 13, and which officials say ensures greater flexibility and protection.

But Amnesty International says the reforms will not lead to significant changes.

In a report entitled “New name, old system? Qatar’s new employment law and abuse of migrant workers”, the rights organisation said that the “meager” changes do not go far enough.

Changes to labour laws in Qatar “barely scratch the surface” and will continue to leave migrant workers, including those building stadiums and infrastructure for the FIFA World Cup in 2022, at the mercy of “exploitative bosses and at risk of forced labor”, said Amnesty International in a briefing.

“This new law may get rid of the word ‘sponsorship’ but it leaves the same basic system intact. It is good that Qatar has accepted that its laws were fuelling abuse, but these inadequate changes will continue to leave workers at the mercy of exploitative bosses,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director for Global Issues at Amnesty International.

“Key problems that drive abuse remain. In practice, employers can still stop migrant workers from leaving the country. By making it easier for employers to confiscate workers’ passports, the new law could even make the situation worse for some workers. The tragedy is that many workers think that this new law will be the end of their ordeal.

“FIFA, its sponsors and foreign governments seeking business ties with Qatar cannot and must not use this reform to claim that the problem of migrant labor abuse has been solved. If the reform stops here, workers across the country – building and working in the stadiums, hotels and transport network that every player and fan in Qatar will use – will be at serious risk of human rights abuse.”

But the Qatari government “fundamentally rejected” Amnesty International’s claims, a statement carried by the official Qatar News Agency said.

“We remain committed to the development of a labor system that is fair to both employers and employees alike,” the Government Communications Office said Monday in a statement.

“These new legislative changes, combined with ongoing enforcement and a commitment to systemic reform, not just in Qatar but also in countries of origin, will ensure workers’ rights are respected across the entire labor pathway.

“We will continue to review and adapt our laws to ensure our approach to reform is fit for purpose.”

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