Article Qatar: Labor Minister Pledges Abolition of Kafala System and Establishment of New Minimum Wage System for Foreign Workers

(Nov. 5, 2019) On October 17, 2019, the Qatari minister of labor announced that the cabinet had unanimously approved a resolution to abolish the kafala system, under which Qatari employers sponsor foreign nationals to work in Qatar. The resolution eliminates the “No Objection Certificate” (NOC), which the initial employer of a foreign domestic or manual laborer was required to issue before the worker could switch jobs, and thus allows workers to switch jobs without their employer’s permission. The minister of Qatar’s interior department (akin to the US Department of Homeland Security) also signed a decree allowing those workers to leave the country temporarily or permanently without the permission of their employers.

The cancellation of the NOC will allow workers to change jobs freely after the initial trial period. The resolution does not mention the length of the initial trial period, but article 39 of the Labor Code, Law No. 14 of 2004, states that a worker may be contractually obligated to a probation period of no more than six months and that no worker may be subjected to more than one probation period by the same employer. If workers wish to make a switch during this period, the new employer must pay the recruitment and placement costs incurred by the original employer.

In addition to the kafala resolution, the cabinet approved a new law adopting the first nondiscriminatory minimum wage in the Middle East, which will be applicable to all nationalities and sectors and guarantee a minimum level of wage protection for all workers. The minimum wage will be determined later in the year on the basis of a joint study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs.

The new resolution and law will now be referred to the Shura Council, the country’s legislative body, for the approval of the prince (emir), Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al Thani. According to news reports, the cancellation of the kafala system and the establishment of the new minimum wage system will take place in January 2020.

Guy Ryder, Director-General of the ILO, welcomed the reforms, stating that these steps would significantly support the rights of migrant workers and promote social justice and decent work in the country while contributing to the efficiency of the economy.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Global Issues, Stephen Cockburn, expressed cautious optimism regarding the new measures, stating that the organization would be closely scrutinizing the details of the new legal measures and its implementation on the ground. According to Cockburn, “[t]he devil will be in the detail. Far too often workers have continued to face exploitation and abuse despite reforms intended to protect them. We hope this time will be different, and that Qatar can truly transform its labour laws to fully respect the rights of its migrant workers. This must also mean more rigorously enforcing its labour laws and holding abusive employers to account.”

Previous Anti-kafala Measures

The recent legal measures to abolish the kafala system for foreign domestic and manual laborers are not the first anti-kafala initiatives undertaken in the country. The following two laws were enacted in 2015 and 2018 in an effort to reform the system.

Law No. 13 of 2018

Law No. 13 of 2018, Amending Law No. 21 of 2015 on the entry and exit of foreigners, issued by the prince of Qatar, removed the authority of Qatari employers to ban expat workers subject to the Labor Code (Law No. 14 of 2004) from leaving the country. However, Law No. 13 of 2018 did not apply to foreign domestic and manual laborers, who fell outside the jurisdiction of the Labor Code.

Law No. 21 of 2015

Law No. 21 of 2015, regulating the entry, exit, and residency of foreign nationals, allowed expats working in Qatar to switch jobs without the permission of their current employer after five years of working with the same employer. However, the Law did not entirely abolish the kafala system, as the expats were required to notify their current employer of their desire to switch jobs and obtain permission from the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs. If the expats switched jobs without permission, they could be legally sanctioned. Additionally, employers still had the power to prevent expats working in Qatar from leaving the country.

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Chicago citation style:

Qatar: Labor Minister Pledges Abolition of Kafala System and Establishment of New Minimum Wage System for Foreign Workers. 2019. Web Page. https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2019-11-05/qatar-labor-minister-pledges-abolition-of-kafala-system-and-establishment-of-new-minimum-wage-system-for-foreign-workers/.

APA citation style:

(2019) Qatar: Labor Minister Pledges Abolition of Kafala System and Establishment of New Minimum Wage System for Foreign Workers. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2019-11-05/qatar-labor-minister-pledges-abolition-of-kafala-system-and-establishment-of-new-minimum-wage-system-for-foreign-workers/.

MLA citation style:

Qatar: Labor Minister Pledges Abolition of Kafala System and Establishment of New Minimum Wage System for Foreign Workers. 2019. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2019-11-05/qatar-labor-minister-pledges-abolition-of-kafala-system-and-establishment-of-new-minimum-wage-system-for-foreign-workers/>.