A workforce of 2.1 million foreigners outnumbers Qatari citizens by about 10 to 1.
Many of the media headlines said that Qatar had abolished the kafala rules for migrant workers to halt abuse. Under "kafala", all foreign workers working in Qatar require a local sponsor, in the form of an individual or company, and need their permission to switch jobs or leave the country. The system was compared to modern slavery and left vulnerable workers with little protection. Labour Minister Issa bin Saad al-Jafali al-Nuaimi said “The new law is the latest step towards improving and protecting the rights of every expatriate worker in Qatar," Nuaimi said. "It replaces the kafala system with a modernised, contract-based system that safeguards workers' rights and increases job flexibility."
Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “Qatar has re-named the appalling kafala system, but the fact is that migrant workers will remain bonded to their employers. Putting new labels on old laws does not remove the stain of modern slavery, and workers will continue to be forced to work under a feudal employment system. One of the world’s richest countries is responsible for keeping workers in poverty and servitude, with appalling work-related death and injury rates.”
The new law retains the exit permit system which allows employers to keep workers in Qatar against their will for up to five years, and to stop workers from changing jobs during their contract. It also now allows employers to keep workers’ passports, which was previously illegal although rarely if ever enforced. Workers are still banned from forming unions and from collective bargaining, and in the absence of a minimum wage, they are paid according to their country of origin rather than the actual job they do.
The move by the Qatar government is simply a cosmetic measure aimed at deflecting international condemnation of the abusive treatment of migrant workers, in the lead-up to a key decision of the International Labour Organisation next March on a call for a Commission of Inquiry into Qatar. The labour law “reforms” leaves migrant workers under the total control of employers