Despite doubts, Qatar Advisory Council signs off on kafala changes

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Dmartinez

During its last session before summer recess, Qatar’s Advisory (Shura) Council has signed off on changes to the country’s kafala sponsorship law, and has reportedly included proposals for change that, if adopted, would actually tighten regulations on expats.

Despite expressing dissatisfaction last month with some of the changes, members of the council unanimously approved the new draft this week, which would update the current Law No. 4 of 2009 Regarding Regulation of the Expatriates Entry, Departure, Residence and Sponsorship.

After a month of scrutiny of the proposed changes by a committee, the 30 Qatari members who make up the Advisory Council also put together their own list of amendments for the existing draft law.

These are only recommendations and are considered part of the consultation process before the final version of the new law is produced.

The most significant proposal suggested making it harder for expats to change jobs.

Currently, foreigners working in Qatar can only switch employers if they have their sponsor’s permission. But the government is considering amending the law to allow them to change jobs after their contract is finished, or after five years if they have an open contract.

Double contract time

However, the Shura Council has recommended that the employee should serve double his contract time, or 10 years if they are on an open contract, before they are eligible to switch employers, according to local media reports.

“The employer, designated authority and MOLSA may allow the expat to change jobs and work for another employer before their contract ends, An expat is not allowed to transfer jobs to a different employer except after working for  double the period specified in their contracts, or after or 10 years for an open contract. This is after  receiving the approval of the designated authority and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs,” Al Raya reports.

The current version of the draft law has 50 Articles in 10 separate chapters, and some sections of it were revealed in local media last month.

At that time, the proposed requirement for serving double the contract time was only specified as a penalty for workers who deliberately create problems for their employer and failed to comply with their contracts.

However, reports of the council’s latest proposals do not mention limiting that provision to troublesome workers.

The Shura council has also recommended that a worker should not change jobs more than twice after service to their first employer.

Another key change the council has requested is to Article 7 of the draft law, which currently states that an expat should contact the Ministry of Interior three days before leaving the country to obtain an exit permit.

The council suggested the worker first ask his employer for leave. If he is denied an exit permit, then he could approach a grievance committee set up by the MOI. This committee could issue exit permits in case of emergencies, the proposal stated.

During the consultation stage, the council also proposed that the new legislation:

  • Underline the right of employers to return workers hired under fixed-term contracts to their home countries once a project is completed; and
  • Require employers to educate new foreign workers about Qatari laws and customs.

As an advisory body, the council can study proposed legislation and make a list of recommendations for change, which it then submits back to Qatar’s Cabinet.

The drafts are also discussed with relevant ministries and ministers who will be responsible for implementing it, before a final law is drawn up.

Slow progress

The Shura Council’s nod to the draft law signals one step forward in terms of kafala reform, and follows a government statement issued at the end of June that said a final draft of the new law would be ready by year-end.

Since being awarded the 2022 World Cup, Qatar has come under intense scrutiny for its treatment of workers and the provisions of the kafala system.

Although promises for reform were first made in May last year, very little in the way of actual change has happened.

Qatar’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA), which is responsible for expat workers in the country, suggested that putting the law into practice still may not happen quickly.

Addressing employer concerns that the draft law would lead to an increase in wages, a MOLSA official is quoted in Al Raya as saying this would not be the case in part because the law would not be implemented immediately after it is issued, to give employers the opportunity to sort out their issues and hire new employees.

The council chairman, Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khulaifi, previously said that it would take a year to implement the law after it was published in the official gazette.