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Qatar approves new law to protect domestic workers

Rights groups have welcomed the new law but say it has a long way to go in establishing full rights for workers
Workers told to keep employers' secrets and abide by Qatari law in return for rights (Reuters)

Qatar has approved a new law that grants legal protection to domestic workers for the first time inside the country. 

The law is the first of its kind to be established in the Gulf and comes amid intense scrutiny over the treatment of the area's foreign workers from the International Labour Organisation (ILO). 

Rights groups inside the country have welcomed the new law and described it as a step in the right direction.

It will assist thousands of maids, nannies and cooks who work in the Gulf country. 

Some of the provisions introduced in the law include limits of 10-hour working days and free medical care. 

It gives workers meal, worship and rest breaks and mandates a day off a week.

They will also receive end-of-service benefits equating to a minimum of three weeks' wages for each year of service when their contract ends. 

The law prohibits staff being recruited from abroad who are older than 60 and younger than 18.

A spokesperson for, a GCC-based advocacy group, welcomed the new law but told Middle East Eye there were a number of "grey areas that need to be clarified by the Qatari authorities".

"While there are some promising provisions in the law, especially one that mentions that a worker cannot be taken out of the country without their permission and stating the maximum work hours, the law does not stipulate a minimum salary, which is worrisome," the spokesperson told MEE.

"It doesn't include domestic workers in the wage protection system. making it optional for the employer to make the bank transfer salary.

"The government need to clarify urgently how it plans to monitor the implementation of the new law within private households and also explain whether workers will be allowed to leave the home of the employer during their off day."

The legislation was passed on Tuesday by Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. 

Violating the law could result in fines worth $1,373 to $2,746. 

The Qatari authorities stated that in return workers had to respect "the laws, customs, social traditions and religious and moral values" of Qatar. 

It also demanded that workers should perform their duties and protect the secrets of their employers and not harm their interests. 

Although Qatar has come under severe international pressure to improve its record on the treatment of construction workers in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, until now domestic staff have not been protected by any legislation.

Other countries that have improved rights for domestic workers include Kuwait, which recently set a minimum wage for maids working inside the country. 

Critics have long campaigned for legal protection for domestic staff, with some claiming that they are subjected to working in slave-like conditions.

These include physical and sexual abuse, no wages being paid and passports being confiscated.

In 2014 it was reported that hundreds of Filipino domestic workers had sought sanctuary at their Doha embassy complaining of harsh working conditions.

The issue of ill-treatment of domestic staff stretches across the region.

In 2015 Indonesia said it would stop sending domestic staff to 21 Middle Eastern countries in protests at the treatment of maids in those countries.

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