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UN Human Rights Experts Welcome Qatar’s Improvement Of Migrant Rights

New laws just passed in Qatar should effectively dismantle Qatar’s restrictive “kafala” labour sponsorship scheme and protect migrant workers from exploitation, if effectively enforced, two UN human rights experts said today.

The measures, signed into law on 30 August 2020 (Law No. 18 of 2020, and Law No. 17 of 2020), will allow migrant workers to change jobs before the end of their contract without first having to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their employer, and will introduce a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyal (roughly USD $275). In addition to the increased minimum wage for all, employers are obliged to provide workers with adequate housing and food or pay allowances to cover these expenses.

“We are very encouraged by the bold steps Qatar is taking to increase the protection of the rights of migrant workers and ensure adequate living and working conditions for all,” the experts said. “If the new law is implemented effectively, the increased freedom of workers to change jobs will make it easier for them to escape exploitative and abusive working conditions.”

The introduction of a non-discriminatory minimum wage is an important step forward, as it also applies to domestic workers who had not benefitted from previous reforms. The new minimum wage will increase the income of the lowest paid workers, but it should be regularly reviewed and progressively increased to ensure decent working and living conditions for all.

“Through these reforms, and by removing exit permit requirements for most workers in January this year, the Government of Qatar has technically ended the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system,” the experts said. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated structural vulnerabilities and abuses facilitated by migrant workers’ extreme dependence on their employers in combination with protection gaps that allowed such abuses to persist through the kafala sponsorship system.

“We call on the Government of Qatar to remove the last pillar of this system, to abolish the charge of absconding and to hold employers who charge illegal recruitment fees that leave many migrant workers in debt bondage accountable. We also encourage the Government of Qatar to effectively and fully implement the new laws as soon as they enter into force by enacting strict penalties, strengthening the capacity and frequency of inspections across all sectors and enhancing the identification of violations to end the exploitation of migrant workers once and for all. These measures are particularly important in the current context of COVID-19, as additional efforts are needed to ensure that migrant workers are not left behind.”

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