Qatar ‘kafala’ reforms face fresh delay

Consultative body expresses serious doubts about proposed labour changes

Gulf News

Doha: Qatar’s pledge to abolish its controversial “kafala” (sponsorship) labour system by the end of 2015 has received a major setback after Doha’s main consultative body expressed serious doubts about proposed reforms.

Qatar’s Shura Council said a draft law could not yet be introduced and needed further study, according to the Arabic-language newspaper Al Sharq on Tuesday.

The council’s chairman Mohammad Bin Mubarak Al Khulaifi also said there was “no need to hurry” in introducing the reforms, reported Al Sharq.

Government officials confirmed on Tuesday that further consultations would be undertaken on the proposed changes to the system, which governs Qatar’s vast army of foreign workers.

It means a timetable set earlier this year by the country’s minister of labour and social affairs could now be in doubt.

In May, Abdullah Bin Saleh Al Khulaifi said he was “90 per cent” certain the kafala system would be replaced by new legislation by the end of this year.

Kafala has been widely blamed for enabling the abuse of foreign workers, especially labourers involved on the country’s vast infrastructure projects, at the hands of unscrupulous bosses.

The Shura Council said it wants to keep a two-year ban on issuing new papers to expatriate workers who leave Qatar after the cancellation of their work visa.

Any new law should not allow foreign workers to change jobs more than twice, said the council.

And it wants to include a provision that any foreign worker who deliberately creates problems for employers should not be allowed to change jobs.

Instead, they should be forced to work with the same employer for double the length of the contract, which could mean up to ten years, as compensation.

There are up to an estimated one million migrant labourers working in Qatar, but that number is set to more than double ahead of the football World Cup in 2022.

The potential delay comes despite international criticism of Qatar’s labour laws and the slow pace of reform.

Rights groups have questioned the country’s “commitment to tackling migrant labour abuse”.

The delay could also lead to further criticism of the decision to allow Qatar to host the World Cup, which is the subject of a corruption investigation by Swiss prosecutors.

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