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Qatar council rejects changes to employment laws, calls for more study

A senior governmental body has said proposed changes to Qatar's labour laws must be studied further before being approved
A protester holds a card critical of Qatar's policies regarding conditions for foreign workers (AFP)

A senior governmental body in Qatar met on Monday and voted against ratifying proposed changes to the country’s much criticised labour laws.

The Advisory Council, which can approve legislation that must be signed off by the emir, agreed to send proposed reforms of employment law back to a committee for further review, the state news agency QNA reported, rather than approve them.

Doha has come under severe pressure to change its controversial kafala sponsorship system of employment, which restricts the rights and freedoms of foreign workers. The wealthy Gulf state, which is due to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, has been criticised by rights groups for failing to provide adequate working conditions for those constructing football stadia.

New employment legislation was supposed to make it easier for foreign workers to change their jobs and gain entry and exit visas, however, local media reported that the Advisory Council has gone against this and proposed giving employers more control over their staff.

“If an expatriate worker deliberately creates problems for the employer and does not comply with the contract to force the latter to end the contract or transfer his sponsorship to another employer, he should not be allowed to change jobs even if he runs away,” the committee recommended, according to Peninsula news site.

The Advisory Council reportedly recommended that workers who “deliberately cause problems for the employer” should be “forced to work with the employer for double the period specified in the contract”.

“If he has an open contract he should be allowed to work for another employer only after ten years of work with the first employer. And all this should require approval from the authorities,” reported the Peninsula.

The Advisory Council also said companies implementing both government and private projects should “be forced to use advanced technology and equipment to speed up work and reduce the number of foreign workers”.

Despite human rights groups having chastised Qatar for violating the rights of foreign workers – who make up 90 percent of the country’s more than two million population – the draft employment legislation emphasises the “rights of the employer”.

“In all cases the rights of the employer who recruited the worker and the provisions of the work contract between the employer and the worker should not be undermined,” the draft law states, according to the Gulf Times.

Advisory Council chairman Mohammed bin Mubarak al-Khulaifi was quoted by Al Sharq as having said there was “no need to hurry in issuing the law”. The local daily said council members voted against approving the legislation reforms after expressing concerns at the proposed changes.

Reforms considered by the council included allowing foreign workers to change jobs after finishing a fixed-term contract or after serving five years of an open-ended one. 

The draft law also suggests a change to the exit permit system, which currently requires foreign workers to gain the permission of an employer before leaving Qatar. The reform, if approved, would mean that foreign workers could request an exit permit from the authorities – believed to be the Interior Ministry – at least three days before leaving the country.

The foreign worker would also have to inform their employer before departing Qatar, who would then have the opportunity to raise any concerns with authorities about the staff member leaving. Doha News reported that it is as yet unclear how much power the employer would have in stopping a foreign worker from leaving the country under the proposed new rules.

At its meeting on Monday the Advisory Council suggested its own changes to the labour laws, including that foreign workers should be barred from changing jobs more than twice and that employers should educate new staff about Qatari laws and customs.

It has not been announced when the Advisory Council will meet again to discuss further changes to Qatar’s employment legislation.