The Ministry of Interior (MoI) and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOLSA) have announced its intention to enact wide-ranging labour market reforms with the aim to strengthen existing labour laws and improve the living and working conditions of workers – both locals and expatriates – in Qatar.

According to MoI and MOLSA, the reforms are in line with Qatar’s commitment to social development as outlined in the Qatar National Vision 2030. The ministries stated that they will work closely with internal and external stakeholders in the coming months to strengthen protections for both the employers and employees in Qatar to ensure sustainable reform.

Qatar has been receiving a lot of heat from the media and human rights organisations regarding its labour laws. In April 2014, the UN has called on Qatar to abolish the kafala system that ties migrant workers to their employers, amid trenchant criticism of the conditions endured by those working in a construction boom in the run up to the 2022 World Cup.

Kafala System Reform

The Kafala System is a common system in the GCC, which manages its ‘temporary’ migrant workforce through the sponsorship or Kafala System. Under this system, a local citizen or local company, known as the kafeel, must sponsor foreign workers in order for their work visas and residency to be valid. This means that an individual’s right to work and legal presence in the host country is dependent on his or her employer, rendering him or her vulnerable to exploitation. In most of the GCC countries, migrants cannot leave or enter the country without their employer’s permission.

  • According to MoI and MOLSA, the current Kafala System will be replaced with a system based on employment contracts. The current exit permit system, which required the employers consent for an employee to leave the country, will now be replaced with an automated system through the MoI. The ‘Metrash 2’ e-government system will automatically grant an exit permit to an employee after a 72-hour period prior to departure.
  • In addition, with the new law, the employer will no longer be financially liable for their employee. Any financial obligations incurred by the employee while in Qatar will be governed by Qatar’s Civil and commercial law.
  • No Objection Certificates, which currently regulate the transfer of employees to different employers, will be replaced with an employment contract system. If the employment contract is of an indefinite duration, the employee may transfer to another employer after five years from the date of the contract. A model employemnt contract will be distributed which includes the new terms and conditions contained in the laws and employers can add other conditions to the model contract as long as they are consistent with the new law. All existing contracts will remain valid until employers bring them in line with the new model contract within a one year period from the time the new law goes into effect.
  • When new law goes into effect, the illegal practice of passport confiscation will be addressed by an increase of the current penalty to a maximum of QR10,000 to QR50,000 for employers who confiscate an employee’s passport. This penalty will be imposed per conviction for every passport confiscated to act as a powerful deterrent to this illegal practice.

When Qatar officially passes the Kafala System reform, it will join Bahrain and the UAE who are the only two countries in the GCC without a ‘Kafala System’.

Labour Law Reform

The exiting labour law will be reformed to further improve the living and working conditions of workers in Qatar.

  • One reform will require the payment of wages electronically to ensure transparency, monitoring and timely payment. Qatar has now adopted a unified accommodation standard to guarantee the quality of housing for all workers in Qatar. In addition to the recent worker accommodations built by the Private Engineering Office and Barwa, the ministry of Municipality & Urban Planning (MMUP) will oversee the construction of worker accommodations to house an additional approximate 200,000 workers in accordance with the new accommodation standard this year.
  • Amendments have been introduced to strengthen the penalty codes for labour law violations, including penalties for late payment for wages and violations of the new accommodation standards. MOLSA is also continuing to hire and train labour inspectors with a target of 300 inspectors by the end of the year. These inspectors have judicial powers to issue penalties for violations related to workers’ accommodation, work sites and occupational health and safety. MOLSA will be signing a Technical Cooperation Agreement with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) this year to further support enforcement mechanisms.

MoI and MOLSA’s announcement today, which was held at St Regis Doha Hotel, is the first official announcement of the labour law reforms. There is still lots of confusion with many questions left unanswered, however MoI and MOLSA will be making regular announcements in the coming months to provide further details on the implementation if the new legislation and regular updates on reform mechanisms being put in to place.