A new labour law that is seen to provide salaried workers in Qatar more freedom of movement and which abolishes the controversial sponsorship (kafala) system has come into effect as of 14 December.

Law no. 21 of 2015, which was signed into law in 2015 by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, introduces new provisions regulating the entry, exit and residency requirements for all workers in Qatar.

“The new law is the latest step towards improving and protecting the rights of every expatriate worker in Qatar,” Minister of Administrative Development Labour & Social Affairs Issa bin Saad al-Jafali al-Nuaimi said in a statement. “It replaces the kafala system with a modernised, contract-based system that safeguards worker rights and increases job flexibility.”

The new law is understood to abolish measures such as the need to secure an exit permit from the employer when a worker needs to travel outside the country, as well as the two-year ban that is usually imposed on a worker whose contract has expired or who leaves an existing job to get a new job.

The new law, however, still falls short of the expectations of human rights groups such as Amnesty International, which has consistently accused Qatar of “appalling” working conditions.

“This new law may get rid of the word ‘sponsorship’, but it leaves the same basic system intact,” a BBC report said, citing Amnesty’s James Lynch.

The new law grants workers the following rights:

  • To leave the country after notifying the employer, whether to take leave or for an emergency
  • To permanently leave the country before or after completing the duration of their contract, after notifying the employer according to the terms of the contract
  • To file an appeal with the Exit Permit Grievances Committee if an employer rejects a leave request; the committee is required by law to respond to all requests within three days
  • To change jobs if they complete the length of a fixed-term contract
  • To change jobs without their existing employer’s permission if they have an open-ended contract provided they complete a five-year service period

In addition, employers that are found to have confiscated their workers’ passports “can be fined up to QR25,000 ($6,865)” for each worker.