Protests over expat worker rights in Qatar have triggered government reforms – but despite indicating good intentions, the measures fall short of an instant solution to employment problems in the country.
Qatar has the highest number of expat workers per head of population in the world and their lack of workplace rights has taken centre stage during preparations for the nation hosting the FIFA 2022 World Cup.
Campaigners have taken advantage of the profile of the soccer tournament and the international exposure that comes with staging the competition to highlight employment issues in the state.
As a result, the government has announced changes are on the way – but has not laid out a timetable for the reforms.
The rows about expat rights centre on the Qatari ‘kafala’ law that demands employers must give expats permission to change jobs and permission to request an exit permit from the country.
Kafala law scrapped
The government wants to scrap kafala and introduce employment contracts and minimum standards for worker accommodation instead.
The move was provoked by campaigners alleging more than 1,200 expat workers have died during construction for the World Cup. The government says no one has died.
The main organisation heading the protests is the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
A spokesman welcomed the announcement but explained the measures do not go far enough to protect workers.
“Nothing has been said about workplace health and safety standards,” said the spokesman. “The new laws give expat workers no guarantees or any indication of when the changes might take place.”
The ITUC wants to see the government allow trade unions and a minimum wage. The government argues demand in the jobs market is sufficient to set wages.
Promises with no time frame
Unions are banned in Qatar and striking or protesting workers are generally deported as troublemakers.
As for when the new laws may come into force, Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi, director of the human rights department at the ministry of interior, explained kafala would definitely be axed but could not say when.
He stated that the proposals have to go through consultation with the Shura Council, then through Qatar’s chamber of commerce and various government departments for amendment.
“I hope this will be soon,” said. “However, I cannot give a firm date for when the laws will be implemented.”
Official figures put the number of expat workers in Qatar at about 1.4 million – equivalent to 85% of the population.