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Qatar approves minimum wage law and will scrap all worker exit permits

International Labour Organisation describes measures as 'a momentous step forward' for migrant workers' rights
Many of the poorly paid workers toiling on Qatar's building sites come from Asian countries like Nepal, India and the Philippines (AFP)

Qatar's government said on Thursday that it had adopted a new minimum wage law and will scrap mandatory exit visas for all workers, part of a broad labour reform programme ahead of its hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

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The Gulf state, which relies on about two million migrant workers for the bulk of its labour force, is also planning to ease curbs on changing employers, Qatar's administrative development, labour and social affairs ministry said.

Qatar, along with other wealthy Gulf Arab states, has come under fire for what rights groups describe as dire labour conditions. 

Doha is keen to show it is tackling allegations of worker exploitation as it prepares to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, which it hopes will boost its economy and development.

The statement said the cabinet had adopted new legislation related to the draft law on a minimum wage, though it did not disclose what level the wage could be, the Reuters news agency reported.

It added it passed another draft law which will lead to the scrapping of exit permits for all workers, adding work was also underway to enable employees to change employers more easily.

In August, workers inside Qatar won concessions after hundreds of labourers went on a rare strike in the emirate to oppose delays in salary payments.

Following the protests, workers entered into negotiations with Qatari officials to discuss their demands.

The negotiations led to the workers receiving two months' worth of salaries they had been due and Qatari authorities arresting company officials who had refused to pay the workers' wages.

'Momentous step forward'

Qatar last year eliminated exit visas for some foreign migrant workers, but rights groups considered the reform incomplete as it did not apply to domestic workers and allowed companies to keep the visa requirement for up to 5 percent of staff.

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The International Labour Organisation (ILO) described the newly announced measures as "a momentous step forward in upholding the rights of migrant workers" and said they were aimed at ending the "kafala" (sponsorship system).

The system is common in Gulf states where large portions of the population are foreign. 

Qatar requires workers to obtain their employers' consent before changing jobs, which rights groups say leaves them open to abuse.

"These steps will greatly support the rights of migrant workers while contributing to a more efficient and productive economy," the ILO said in a statement.

It said the new reforms were expected to come into force by January 2020.

Many of the poorly paid workers toiling on Qatar's building sites, sweeping its streets and cleaning private homes, come from Asian countries like Nepal, India and the Philippines.