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Qatar set to reform sponsorship system

Gulf Times

15 May 2014
Qatar has announced its "intention" to reform the prevailing Kafala (sponsorship) system with a set of new amendments to the existing labour law. The amendments will impact "all" migrant workers only after it is approved by the government after going through its "legislative cycle". Apart from the "renaming" of the "Kafala" law and dropping the word "sponsorship" from it, the major changes proposed in the new labour law, are: *modifications to the exit permit system whereby employers' "consent" would no longer be required and; *the no-objection certificate (NOC), presently required by a worker when he switches jobs, would now be governed strictly by an "employment contract system".

The major announcement was made yesterday at a press conference titled "Qatar introduces wide-ranging market labour market reforms", where a several hundred-strong media contingent, comprising international and local press, was present. It was addressed by senior Ministry of Interior officials, including Brigadier Mohamed Ahmed al-Atiq (assistant director general of General Directorate of Border, Passports and Expatriate Affairs) and Colonel Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi (director, Human Rights Department). The Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs was represented by Salih Saeed al-Sahwi (manager, Labour Relations Department) and Ali Ahmad al-Khulaifi (director, Planning & Quality Department).

The current exit permit system, which requires employers' consent for an employee to leave the country, has now been proposed to be replaced with an automated system that would now require only the consent of the Ministry of Interior itself. The Metrash 2 e-government system will "automatically" grant an exit permit to an employee after his/her 72-hour "grace period" prior to departure ends. Colonel al-Muhannadi said that although the exit permit would no longer be in the hand of employers, the employee should notify the employer of his intention to exit the country. In the case of a dispute between the employer and the employee, a special committee comprising MoI and MoL would resolve the issue within 72 hours of submission of such a request, he added. Moreover, the employer would no longer be financially liable for their employee after the new law comes into effect.

"Any financial obligations incurred by the employee while in Qatar will be governed by the state's Civil and Commercial Law," the official statement said. The NOC that regulates the transfer of employees to different employers would be replaced with an "employment contract system", which would allow workers on "fixed-term" contracts to transfer to another employer at the end of that term. If the employment contract of a worker is "indefinite", the employee can switch jobs to another employer after five years from the date of the contract. A model employment contract would be distributed by the government that would contain the new terms and conditions contained in the laws.

Employers would be able to add conditions to the model contract as long as they were consistent with the new law. All existing contracts would remain valid until employers bring them in line with the new model contract within a one year grace period "from the time the new law goes into effect". The officials stressed that the proposed amended law would have to first go through its "normal legislative cycle", including evaluation by its legislative branch, the Shura Council and financial entities such as the Qatar Chamber before it was referred back to the government for a final approval.

They, however, did not give any time frame when the amendments to the labour law would be ratified and come into force. Amendments 'will apply to domestic workers too' The proposed amendments to the labour law and system will apply to all migrant workers in Qatar, including domestic workers and unskilled labourers, announced Brigadier Mohamed Ahmed al-Atiq, assistant director general of General Directorate of Border, Passports and Expatriate Affairs. "The current stipulation that workers need to leave Qatar for two years before getting the permission to work for a new company would also be abolished. Eventually, workers, who leave the country, could enter again on a new work visa and new work contact, unless there were other pending legal issues," he explained.

Colonel Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi, director, Human Rights Department, Ministry of Interior, stated that the proposed modifications of the labour law were not being done due to any external pressures from human rights bodies. "We started to modify the law out of humanitarian obligations, when we felt that there was a need to do it as part of developing and upgrading all the systems of the country to complete the full legal system in Qatar," he added.

© Gulf Times 2014

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