Published in November 2022
Qatar's hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup has put the country in the spotlight
Over the last decade, reports of labour exploitation of migrants and even forced labour have been widespread. In 2014, international trade unions submitted a complaint at the ILO against the State of Qatar alleging the country was not resolving violations of labour rights.
After a period of intense negotiations, the State of Qatar and the ILO agreed on and launched a programme to support major labour reforms.
The measures taken have already improved the working and living conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers, though urgent additional efforts are needed to ensure that all workers can benefit.
Freedom to change jobs
Workers in Qatar previously required permission from their employers to change jobs – one of the most problematic elements of the kafala system that made workers overly dependent on their employers and created situations of labour exploitation.
Following the changes to the kafala system in 2020, workers can now change jobs at any time, after a notice period of up to two months. Migrant workers, including domestic workers, also no longer require an employer-approved exit permit to leave the country.
Over 350,000 applications to change jobs have been approved in the two years following the introduction of new legislation, with positive outcomes for Qatar’s economy as a whole.
Changing jobs: What still needs to be done?
These major changes to Qatar’s labour law have significantly reduced migrants’ vulnerability to forced labour, which resulted from the inordinate control employers had over their lives.
But many workers still face hurdles in leaving jobs and moving to new ones, including retaliation from their employers, such as cancelling workers’ residency permits or filing false “absconding” charges against them.
Qatar’s Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Interior are linking their electronic systems to cross-check information and prevent employers from taking such actions, but more work is needed to stop these retaliation practices.
Lack of information about labour mobility is also an important obstacle to changing jobs. Procedures and regulations must be clarified, so that they are well understood by all workers and employers, who could then benefit from the reforms.
Workers must be paid their due wages on time
In March 2021, Qatar became the first country in the Gulf region to adopt a non-discriminatory minimum wage that applies to all workers, of all nationalities, in all sectors, including domestic work. This resulted in 13% of the workforce – 280,000 people – seeing their wages rise to the new minimum threshold.
Employers are obliged to transfer employees’ wages through Qatari banks, allowing the Ministry of Labour to monitor the transfers and reduce wage abuses.
Wages: What still needs to be done?
Despite the significant success of the measures taken to protect wages, there are still too many workers who wait months to see their salaries paid.
Penalties for non-payment of wages have been increased and are being more strictly enforced. A fund established by the Government has disbursed US$350 million to workers since 2019, demonstrating the scale of wage abuses.
In line with international standards, data, including on the cost of living, should be collected for a review of the minimum wage. Qatar’s Minimum Wage Commission should consult with workers’ and employers’ representatives to periodically review and propose adjustments to the minimum wage.
One accident is too many
The preparation for the FIFA World Cup 2022 has triggered a massive building programme by the State of Qatar, covering the construction of stadiums and other infrastructure such as hotels, roads and public transport systems.
News reporting on work-related injuries and deaths has varied, raising questions around the real number of occupational accidents in the country.
Using a newly developed methodology, the ILO worked with the Government and other key institutions in Qatar to publish a report presenting the most comprehensive data available on the issue.
The adoption and implementation of new Occupational Safety and Health and inspection policies, as well as the mitigation of heat stress have also been among the ILO’s priorities in Qatar.
Safety and health: What still needs to be done?
The ILO report One is too many found that at least 50 workers had lost their lives in 2020 and just over 500 were severely injured.
The ILO is supporting Qatar’s Government to improve the quality of data collection, a process currently handled by various institutions in the country, using different definitions and still without a harmonized approach.
A new dedicated department for Occupational Health and Safety within Qatar’s Ministry of Labour is being created and is expected to focus on prevention of accidents at work and compliance of laws to protect workers.
The ILO report One is too many also highlighted that more efforts are needed to investigate injuries and fatalities that may be work-related but are not currently categorized as such. This will ensure that workers and their family members receive due compensation in case of occupational injuries.
Improved access to justice
Before the labour reforms, workers had very limited means to lodge complaints in case of disputes with their employers. Over the past few years, Qatar has taken steps to improve workers’ access to justice.
Between 2021 and 2022, the number of workers’ complaints to Qatar’s Ministry of Labour increased from 11,000 to 25,000.
This growth is explained by the establishment of a new online platform for workers to submit complaints. Between October 2021 and October 2022, 67% of the complaints were resolved before or at the conciliation stage, with the remainder referred to newly created labour courts. In most cases (84% in 2021-22), these courts decide in favour of workers.
Justice: What still needs to be done?
Today, the time workers wait between the submission of a complaint and receipt of due wages and benefits can still take several months.
Grievance mechanisms can be difficult to navigate, and workers need more guidance on the required documentation and issues such as how to prepare for court hearings.
A comprehensive training course on dispute resolution is being developed. In addition to building the skills of the conciliation staff, there are plans to design standard operating procedures and to monitor efficiency of the grievance mechanisms.
Giving workers a voice
Qatar’s law does not allow for foreign workers to form or join trade unions. Before the labour reforms, platforms for dialogue between workers and management were extremely limited.
When negotiating the reforms with the Government of Qatar, worker representation and social dialogue were among the ILO’s top priorities.
Social dialogue has taken various forms, and new legislation has led to the establishment of joint worker-management committees at the enterprise level.
Social dialogue: What still needs to be done?
Whether a worker-management committee within a company is created or not is still up to the companies to decide by themselves. An ILO study is exploring the feasibility of making joint committees mandatory for companies of a certain size.
With ILO’s support, Qatar’s Ministry of Labour is increasing the number of joint committees and building their capacity for dialogue within sectors such as transport, construction and hospitality. The ILO is also proposing to create sectoral bodies to support the objective of broader social dialogue at the industry level.
Fairer recruitment chains for migrant workers
The practice of low-wage migrant workers paying recruitment fees is deep-rooted worldwide. Despite legislation in place in several countries of origin and destination to prohibit or cap recruitment fees and related costs, the challenge persists. This is also the case of Qatar.
Since 2019, the Government of Qatar has established 14 Qatar Visa Centres in 6 countries to provide appropriate information to migrants and reduce chances of contract deception.
The Government closed 45 non-compliant recruitment agencies in 2022. With the support of the ILO, it is assessing the existing system for licensing and monitoring private recruitment agencies.
Recruitment: What still needs to be done?
Qatari law states that workers should not pay recruitment fees, but a recent survey conducted by the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute of Qatar found that 54% of low-wage workers paid to come to Qatar.
The debt incurred often puts workers in vulnerable situations, in which they are more prone to exploitation or abuse
Fair recruitment practices and lessons learned need to be promoted further and expanded to the operations of the private and public sectors.
Measures to empower domestic workers
Currently in Qatar, there are more than 160,000 migrant domestic workers, of which 60% are women, who are covered by Law No. 15 of 2017 on Domestic Workers.
In 2021, the Ministry of Labour adopted a revised standard employment contract for domestic workers to align their rights with those of other private sector employees in terms of overtime payment, termination of employment and sick leave entitlements.
Through the Qatar Visa Centres, domestic workers migrating to Qatar from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are now signing their employment contracts, based on the revised standard contract, prior to their departures.
Domestic work: What still needs to be done?
Despite improvements to the law and awareness raising efforts, domestic workers still struggle to exercise their rights, including those pertaining to working time and the right to at least a day off per week.
Having time off is not only important for rest, but also for lodging any potential grievances with the relevant authorities.
More training and awareness raising is needed – for domestic workers, their employers and recruitment agencies. In addition, domestic workers face specific challenges in availing of their rights on wage protection and labour mobility, an issue that requires further attention.
The World Cup is not the finish line
There is universal acknowledgement that the work is not complete and more needs to be done to fully apply and enforce the reforms to Qatar’s labour law. Among the ILO top priorities, there’s the need to:
- Ensure that all workers and employers can benefit from the kafala reforms on labour mobility.
- Streamline access to justice and the recovery of due wages.
- Ensure that the law protecting domestic workers is fully implemented.
Beyond the World Cup, the ILO will continue to work with the Government, workers and employers to further support the alignment of Qatar’s laws and practices with international labour standards.
For the ILO, this will be the most enduring legacy of the World Cup.