Qatar has announced two significant reforms, one of which loosens the stranglehold sponsors (kafeels) have over workers’ mobility in the labour market. The other is a non-discriminatory minimum wage. Both of these reforms fully include domestic workers, even though they remain excluded from the labour law and are only governed by the domestic worker’s law of 2017.
The minimum wage (Law No 17 of 2020 on Setting the Minimum Wage for Workers and Domestic workers) for all workers regardless of sector or nationality is now QR1000 basic pay, replacing the temporary minimum wage of QR750. If the employer does not provide food or housing, allowances of QR300 and QR500 respectively must be paid in addition to the basic wage, totalling a minimum of QR1800.
All overtime and leave calculation will be based on the basic wage.
While all new contracts will require the new minimum wage, employers will be given time to transition old contracts over the next six months.
Speaking to Migrant-Rights.org, head of the ILO Project Office for Qatar, Houtan Homayanpour clarified that this is only the minimum wage, and where bi-lateral agreements state a higher amount, then that would have to be followed. However, if bilateral agreements mention a minimum wage lower than QR1000, the Qatari minimum wage would prevail.
Countries like the Philippines and India have determined higher minimum wages for their citizens working in the GCC, which is mandatory in order to approve job orders. However, certain countries have a lower minimum wage, For example, QR900 for Nepal, and as low as QR750 for domestic workers from Bangladesh.
A national minimum wage commission will also be set up to review periodically and revise if necessary.
Abolishment of NOC
By far the most significant reform to date is the removal of the No Objection Certificate (NOC) to change jobs. The removal of NOC comes into force almost immediately, as soon as it is gazetted. (Decree Law No. 18 of 2020 amending some provisions of Labour Law No. 14 of 2004 and Decree Law No. 19 of 2020 amending some provisions of 2004 Law No. 21 of 2015 regulating the entry and exit of expatriates and their residence.)
Employees will be able to change employers at any time during their contract. However, if the change occurs within the probation period (which cannot exceed six months), then the new employer will have to reimburse recruitment costs to the previous employer. The reimbursement cannot exceed the basic pay of two months and does not apply to those who are recruited locally. The fee is reimbursable only for those recruited to work in Qatar for the first time.
The process for changing employers does not include proof of such payment, according to Homayanpour. The reimbursement is a matter of concern between two employers, and disputes arising from that will not interfere with the employee’s ability to change jobs. Any such disputes will be treated as a civil case, he said.
Workers would be able to process their job change independently at the ministry.
It’s worth noting that the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently announced a platform for local recruitment. There are plans to launch a portal for local employment by the government as well.
Migrant-Rights.org welcomes the announcement and recognises the potential for positive impact on the lives of workers in the country. The removal of NOC and terms associated with it are a first for the region. Only two countries in the GCC currently have a minimum wage – Kuwait and Qatar. In Kuwait, it is KD75 for the private sector and KD60 for domestic workers. Earlier this year, Qatar had abolished the exit permit.
It is critical that these reforms are followed by stringent implementation and prosecution of those who fail to comply.
Workers do not have enough trust in either the destination government, their own embassies, or the employer. For them to engage with their reforms and enjoy the rights accorded to them by law, there must be clear evidence of violating parties being held accountable.
Based on our research and our engagement with workers in distress, some of the weak links that Qatar should address include:
- Absconding laws must be removed. Currently, an employer can file absconding charges against their employees on the Metrash 2 app. This is often misused to rescind on obligations to pay gratuity, due wages and repatriation. Workers with such charges who are picked up are unable to pursue their labour case.
- Lack of awareness amongst workers is one of the biggest hurdles to safeguarding their rights. The government must work with sending country governments and embassies to ensure workers both understand and trust the system.
- Awareness of the new laws and corresponding penalties must also be raised among employers, particularly individual employers of domestic workers who often lack a comprehensive understanding of their obligations.
- The informal networks of recruitment touts that operate in the country are likely to step up their activities, creating a new environment of local recruitment. There is an urgent need to ensure any recruitment agents who operate locally are regulated properly, and that workers are not compelled to pay recruitment charges.
- In order for domestic workers to fully avail of these new reforms, it is important to allow them to either stay legally away from their employers or provide safe houses. Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable during the transition phase from one employer to another, given the isolating nature of live-in domestic work.
Updated to add guidance documents issued by Qatar