• Reforms to labour laws have seen little progress since pledges made in May 2014
  • Proposed changes are seeing resistance from Chamber of Commerce as well as elected Shura Advisory Council
  • Analysts say reforms are being blocked because it will increase costs for Qatari businesses

Qatar is expecting to see a final draft of its reformed labour legislation ready by the end of 2015, according to a statement issued on 29 June by the Government Communications Office.

Qatar has said the new legislation will include significant reforms to the controversial kafala (sponsorship) system, which is used to monitor migrant workers and has been likened to a form of modern-day slavery by the International Trade Union Confederation. 

Under the system, Qatari nationals earn money by sponsoring migrant workers, and have the power to prevent employees from changing jobs or leaving the country.

“The Council of Ministers will now prepare the final draft of the kafala reform legislation, which is expected to be completed before the end of 2015,” the Government Communications Office  said in its statement.

In May 2014, Doha promised to abolish the kafala system, but it has yet to deliver on this promise.

A full timetable for the passage of the law and its implementation is still to be announced and the proposed changes are seeing resistance from the Chamber of Commerce as well as the elected Shura Advisory Council.

Analysts say reforms to Qatar’s kafala system are being blocked because it will increase costs for local businesses.

Analysts also say there are concerns amongt Qatari nationals that relaxing controls on migrant workers could be a threat to national security.

The country’s migrant worker population stands at 1.8 milllion, six times the number of native Qatari nationals.

“The reluctance doesn’t just come from the fact that Qataris benefit from the kafala system financially,” says one diplomatic source.

“There is also a fear they will lose control of their own country. If you can deport a worker at a moment’s notice then you have control.”

Reform is also being held back by bottlenecks within Qatar’s bureaucracy. Doha observers say the government lacks a workforce with the capability to implement wholesale change, and is blocked by conservative elements that want to maintain the status quo.

Earlier in June, the Shura Advisory Council expressed concerns about the proposed reforms to the kafala system, saying it wanted to see a continuation of the two-year ban on issuing of a new visa to expatriate workers leaving Qatar after the cancellation of their work visa.

According to the English-language Qatari news service The Peninsula, the committee proposed that visas be issued to such workers only with the approval of their former employer, with some exceptions.

The committee also said that if an expatriate worker deliberately creates problems for the employer and does not comply with the contract in order to force the employer to terminate the contract or transfer his sponsorship to another employer, he should not be allowed to change jobs even if he runs away.

The Shura Advisory Council said that under these circumstances the expatriate worker should be forced to work with the employer for double the period specified in the contract. 

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