Qatar to introduce major pay reform for migrant workers

The changes will ensure that workers are paid more regularly.

A picture taken on November 16, 2014 shows migrant workers at a construction site in Doha. AFP Photo
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DOHA // Qatar has said it will introduce a major labour law reform to ensure thousands of migrant workers building venues for the 2022 World Cup are paid on time, after complaints by rights groups.

These changes, approved by Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, will see workers get paid at least once a month and in some cases every two weeks.

Thursday’s announcement comes before the international spotlight looks to fall on Qatar again as Fifa officials visit Doha early next week to finalise a date for the tournament.

Under the proposal, wages will be paid through direct bank transfers which should – in theory – make it easier to track employers who do not comply with the new law.

It is not yet clear when the reforms will be introduced but employers will have six months to implement them.

If they do not, they could face up to one month in prison as well as a fine of up to 6,000 Qatari Riyals (Dh 6,052).

Last November, Amnesty International accused the government of not doing enough on the issue of non-payment.

And earlier this year, lack of progress on the issue was highlighted again – this time by Human Rights Watch.

The organisation’s Qatar researcher, Nicholas McGeehan gave a cautious welcome to the changes announced in Doha.

“Of course it’s good,” said Mr McGeehan. “It is a positive step as long as it is properly enforced.”

He said the reform would also impact on a “very substantial number of workers” across the Qatari economy, not just those in construction.

A 2013 academic study, “A Portrait of Low-Income Migrants in Contemporary Qatar”, found that 21 per cent of migrant workers in Qatar “received their salary on time only sometimes, rarely, or never”.

However, there was some disappointment that the changes announced on Thursday did not address the country’s controversial “kafala” sponsorship system, which rights groups and the FIFPro global football union have urged Qatar to abolish.

The kafala law enables employers to prevent foreign workers from leaving the country or changing jobs.

In November, Qatar's labour and social affairs ministry said the law would be replaced early next year by legislation "currently under review", but did not provide further details.

* Agence France-Presse