Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East

Return to research Posted on Oct 29 2010

Bahrain and Kuwait have already announced that they will alter their kefala sponsorship systems. While neither are wholly getting rid of such draconian systems, the fact that conversations on reform are at least being heard is a good start.

Qatar too is beginning to have its own debate. The government is said to be considering moves to guarantee workers’ pay and gratuities. Despite the fact that most manual and domestic workers are paid a pittance, their wages frequently fall in arrears. Within a week of arriving on Doha I heard of two large-scale instances where workers had not been paid as the employers were away on their holidays. The groundsmen at Doha hockey club, for example, would turn the sprinklers on as we were about to start playing to ‘vent’ their anger and, I suppose, to try to get the players to agitate on their behalf.

On the more fundamental question of Qatar abolishing its sponsorship and exit-visa systems, progress looks grim. The Qatari Chamber of Commerce has successfully lobbied to retain both these facets of Qatari labor law, despite the growing understanding that they are outdated, unfair and contribute to workers’ rights being abused.

Although the trend is gradually turning against the sponsorship and exit permit systems in the GCC countries, Qatar’s private sector says it would continue to back the above rules.

Of course the Chamber of Commerce backs such laws! In much the same way that a Turkey will never vote for Christmas and the Catholic Church isn’t going to vote for a gay Pope, a lobbying group whose role is to make things as pro-employer as possible will never willingly vote for human rights over profits.

Exactly this type of pressure in Bahrain led to the watering-down of their proposed reforms. Instead of allowing all workers to change jobs if they so choose [yes, the rights being argued for are this basic] domestic workers are still prohibited. Also, the kefala system has manifestly not been abolished: today it is the Labour Market Regulation Authority that sponsors workers and not individuals or agencies.

The fact that the Qatari government caved-in to its business lobby highlights just how strong it must be. Ordinarily, one might expect that Qatar would be leading the way on these kinds of topics. In recent years Qatar’s image has been built championing itself as some kind of progressive if not faintly liberal state, promoting values of education, tolerance and openness. This push has come from the three most powerful people in the country: the Emir, HBJ (the Foreign and Prime Minister) and the Emir’s wife. For them, therefore, not to reform such an egregiously harsh and manifestly illiberal blot on Qatar’s image shows the kinds of give and take that needs to go on. Neither can this triumvirate rely on wide-spread public support: such laws do nothing for Qataris themselves; indeed, if they do anything to them it is ‘inconvenience’ them. Until a ground-swell of domestic or international pressure is reached, there is little the government can do.

This post was originally published on The Gulf Blog and re-posted here with permission.

Bahrain, Qatar, Research, Sponsorship

7 thoughts on “Qatar considers sponsorship system

  1. Kuya Ronnie says:

    You had me screaming for a while, the title made me a bit ecstatic. I am one of those who will be celebrating if this sponsorship system here in Qatar will be abolished.

    I have a friend from a previous company who resigned and asked for (NOC) No Objection Certificate so he could try to find a new job. Fortunately he was given the NOC in exchange for his 5 years gratuity pay. How is that for a bargain?

    I made a related article about this issue as this really concerns me as an OFW working in Qatar.
    Sponsorship to be Abolished

  2. Migrant Rights says:

    Kuya, many expats in Qatar would be thrilled if the sponsorship system there was abolished but it seems that both Qatar and Kuwait (which you wrote about) have a long way to go. We didn’t cover the Kuwait media spin about abolishing the sponsorship system there because a day after the initial statement about abolishing the system, they said they wouldn’t.

  3. Kuya Ronnie says:

    “Kuryente”. I thought that’s for GMA only, now I have to make a new article contradicting my previous one. I guess I was too happy and too eager to share such a positive thing to my fellow OFW. Thanks for the information.

  4. still light says:

    i think that both of u are corret

  5. Embee says:

    Now since Qatar got FIFA 2022 bid they should really scrap the Sponsosership system which is nothing but modern day slavery. Can we all not starta campaign to send e mails to Emir and HBJ( Foreign and PM) so that they do not yield to the pressure created by business lobbyist & QCCI!!

  6. Thomson says:

    There is lot of rumour that the existing sponsorship of Qatar will change on June or July 2011.If it happen it will be a relief for the category from workers to professionals. However country will get more skilled people so that quality of the output will increase. Not only that the country will get a good image for respecting human rights.With the development of economy this image will boost up Qatar’s position amoung the countries.
    “If one man is skilled he should be paid according to the market value”.Because of this ban of sponsorship this common rule is violated here.
    If it changes more and more professionals & workers with greater skill will come to this peaceful country and it will develop.

  7. kosomoto says:

    its going to 2012 now and nothing has change ive been here for 1 year without work without my passport also because its confiscated from me since i start to work here on 2006…my sponsor is very greedy to money his name is mr abdulaziz almana they have a very big companies here in qatar..but this guy dont like to give my compensations that i work for 4 years without going home in my country he just terminate all the old staff and send them home without their compensations…its only me who fight for my rights and i go to al watani court to file a case and i take some hearings,,,until now i dont know what will gonna happen to me al hamdulilah im still alive and eating here ii carefully advice to my fellow filipinos please dont come in qatar…its just a rumor that this place is good but its probably not marami pa tayong bansangpwedeng applyan please wag na dito sa lintek na desyerto na to,,,,qatarantadoha lang ang qatar…

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Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East