Qatar government makes changes in sponsorship law

- HOM KARKI, DOHA

Oct 29, 2015-

Qatar has made several changes in the country’s sponsorship law that local authorities claim will make it easier for millions of migrants-- including around half a million Nepalis--to switch jobs and leave the country.

The revised law allows migrants working on fixed-term contracts to change jobs once their contract expires without the permission of employers. The migrant workers, however, still require the permission of the government to change jobs, according to local media.

“Previously, one had to wait for two years before being employed in Qatar again if his/her initial employer refused to grant a “no objection certificate”,” writes Doha News, an online news portal based in Qatar.

The legislation that regulates Expatriates Entry, Departure and Residence still makes it binding for foreign workers to get approval of his or her employer’s to travel outside Qatar or, in certain situation, switch to another job within five years of service if the contract is open-ended.

The law approved by the Emir on Tuesday, which is expected to come into effect next year, still falls short of delivering the reform pledge that oil rich kingdom made following widespread criticism for “cattle-like” treatment of foreign workers, rights groups said.

Nepali workers, mostly unskilled, are working in diverse sectors of Qatar’s booming labour market contributing to the economy of both the sending and receiving countries. However, most of them have been facing severe forms of exploitation and forced to live in squalid living conditions. Data at Nepal’s embassy in Qatar shows that 205 Nepalis died in Qatar in 2013/14. Most of Nepali migrants work in construction, security, hospitality and business sectors in Qatar.

The erstwhile exit permits system, which mandates employees to obtain permission of employer to leave the country, remains in place. However, the law has envisioned a special committee where migrants can file complaints if employer denies approving their departure.

“For changing jobs before the expiry of contract, Article 20 of the new law states that expatriate worker has to get the approval of the employer, the department concerned at the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Once the contract period is over, the worker may take up a job with another employer with the approval of the departments concerned,” writes Gulf Times, a newspaper based in Qatar.

The law also envisions prompt legal redress to abused migrants, ensures residence facilities to workers’ families and stringent punishment to employers acting against the laws.

While business community and Qatari officials have welcomed the legislation, rights activists have described it as “too little and too late.”

 “It sounds extremely disappointing. This does not sound like a change in the law that will move things forward for workers,” Nick McGeehan, a Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Doha News.

“Kafala is at the heart of (Qatar’s) exploitative labour system,” McGeehan said. “Without significant kafala reform, (Qatar) will never have a fair and just labour system. It’s absolutely essential to ensure workers are treated fairly.”

Qatar’s former Justice Minister Dr Najeeb Al Nuaimi told Doha news that the “reforms are not up to the expectations of international human rights organisations, but are still an improvement from the old kafala law”.

Nepali migrant workers in Qatar have welcomed the changes. “Skilled workers like us will not be deprived of opportunities now. We will be able to utilise our abilities and own our own business,” said Bharat Subedi, a migrant from Pokhara working in Qatar for the past one decade. He said many workers were happy with the changes.

Published: 29-10-2015 08:28

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