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Qatar’s Domestic Worker Law: A step in the right direction, but weakened by exclusions

On August 25, 2017
Excluding domestic workers from important provisions and lack of grievances redressal mechanism weaken a law that has several articles of note.

Qatar has passed a law protecting domestic workers, becoming only the second country in the GCC to do so. As per the law, domestic workers can be hired only with a written contract approved by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (ADLSA). The issuance of Law No 15 of 2017 is certainly a step in the right direction but will require significant amendments to the existing 24 articles in order to truly empower domestic workers The law will affect the living and working conditions of 173,434 migrants in the domestic work sector, of whom 107,453 are female.

Kuwait was the first to pass a domestic worker's law in 2015 and UAE has a law in the pipeline. Saudi Arabia has comprehensive regulations detailing the rights of domestic workers.

Last month, analysed Qatar’s draft law, drawing attention to some of the provisions that need to be reconsidered.

We have perused the original bill in Arabic as carried by Arrayah below:

  • The first point in Article 11 explains the duties of the domestic worker.  Workers are obliged to respect the laws of the country, its cultural traditions and its religious and ethical values. The ambiguity of these duties may make it easy for employers to terminate the contract, citing this article. It does not specify who is responsible for educating domestic workers on the laws and traditions of the country.

Which leads into the role of recruitment agents, addressed by article 4:

  • Recruitment shall be done through authorised agents, and direct recruitment is possible after seeking the permission of ADLSA. There is no mention of what provisions are in place for direct recruitment, how recruitment agencies will be monitored and governed, and the need for a pre- (and post-) arrival orientation for workers, that would address the concerns raised above regarding article 11.

The law stipulates that the regulations for recruiting domestic workers, their medical checkups, and residency permits are governed by Law No 21 of 2015, in a way that does not conflict with this Law No 15 of 2017.

  • Law No 21 covers critical residency and employment issues including exit and change of employer. It’s not clear if the domestic worker will also have access to redressal if the employer does not provide an exit permit, and if so, what that mechanism will look like.

Some positive highlights from Law No 15 include:

  • (Article 17) Domestic worker MAY terminate the employment contract before its term ends if:  
    • The employer violates the obligations mentioned in the contract of the provisions of this law
    • If the employer or any of the employer's representatives used fraud at the time of contracting
    • If the employer attacked the DW or any of the DW's family members in a way that affects his/her body or his/her life
    • If there is a serious danger that threatens the safety of the DW or his health, provided that the employer is aware of the existence of the hazard and did not work to eliminate/remove it.
  • Even though objections were raised in the Shura Council, the final law stipulates three weeks annual paid leave (article 14) and three weeks of pay for every year of service as the end of service benefit (article 15).
  • A maximum of 10 hours work per day (Article 12)

According to 2016 Labour Force statistics, domestic workers work longer than any other category of workers, at 58 hours a week.  A 2014 Amnesty report on domestic workers found that some work up to 100 hours a week.

  • A weekly day off of 24 continuous hours (Article 13).

While the ILO Domestic Workers Convention No 189  stipulates 24 hours off,  it is important to underline that these 24 hours does not include the rest/sleep hours of the previous or following working day. South Africa’s domestic worker law, for instance, stipulates 36 continuous hours, taking into consideration the 24-hour clause could be misconstrued to deny workers a full off day.

Research collected by through our various on-ground advocacy projects indicate that a majority of workers either do not receive a week day off or are not allowed to go out on their days off and rest periods, which in practice means the worker is on call every working hour.

  • A maximum QR5000 to QR10000 penalty for violating the provision of law, with the highest penalty awarded for employing workers below minimum age, non-payment of wages,  or unlawful deductions of salaries (Article 21).

Still, the realisation of these rights requires a legal infrastructure which does not yet exist. Accessibility to complaint mechanisms remains a practical obstacle to enforcement of the new law.

Earlier this month Qatar also approved the establishment of a new committee to settle labour disputes, which will sit within Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs (ADLSA) and which will issue decisions within three weeks of a complaint being filed by a worker. But domestic workers are not allowed to raise complaints through these committees, which renders the new domestic worker law weak, while the workers continue to be marginalised.

Domestic workers are also excluded from the Wage Protection System, though the law suggests that salaries be paid via bank transfer.  The new law does not stipulate a minimum wage. urges Qatar to reevaluate the vulnerabilities in its new law and reassess the capacity for its existing legal environment to ensure compliance with the new law.

Comments from Rights Groups

Amnesty International in a public statement said the two new laws on migrant workers signal a degree of progress but major gaps remain.

Two new laws on the rights of domestic workers and the ability of migrant workers to collect compensation when they are abused by employers may contribute to the protection of labour rights in Qatar, but there are some significant gaps in these laws that the Qatari authorities must address as a matter of priority.

If it operates fairly and effectively, the new committee should address some of the barriers to migrant workers accessing justice. Amnesty International has found in its research in Qatar that the existing Labour Court system forces workers to wait many months, attend multiple sessions, and pay often prohibitive fees, in the hope of recovering lost wages and other compensation. These issues have made the court system slow and often too expensive for workers to use.

Amnesty also drew attention to the fact that a complaint regarding Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers will again be considered by the International Labour Organisation in November 2017.

In order to demonstrate to the ILO Governing Body that it is genuinely addressing forced labour, Qatar must carry out fundamental reforms, including providing migrant workers with the rights to change jobs and to leave the country without requiring their employer’s permission.

Human Rights Watch in a statement said:

Qatar’s adoption of a new law on domestic workers provides labor rights for domestic workers for the first time. Qatari authorities should enact strong enforcement policies and close loopholes that place domestic workers at risk of exploitation.

While the law has a number of positive provisions, it is still weaker than the Labor Law, which protects all other workers, and does not fully conform to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention, the global treaty on domestic workers’ rights.

This commentary has been updated to include comments from rights groups.