New laws providing greater mobility to migrant workers were published in Qatar’s Official Gazette yesterday.
Law No 18 and No 19 removing the No Objection Certificate requirement to change jobs come into force immediately.
The new minimum wage law was also entered in the Gazette and comes into force in March 2021.
According to sources, while new contracts from this day forward will carry the minimum wage, older contracts will have until March to adjust to the requirements. Speaking to Migrant-Rights.org, officials of origin countries, welcomed these significant steps but also shared some concerns they hope the government will pay attention to.
Implementation has always been an issue, with both the Wage Protection System (WPS) and labour inspections failing to identify non-payment and delay of wages. Even when detected, employers faced little or no consequence.
Domestic workers continued exclusion from the WPS and labour inspections also makes it difficult to monitor wage payments and working and living conditions.
Some countries that have bilaterally negotiated higher minimum wages fear that when their citizens change employers locally they may be forced to settle for the lower national minimum wage, as sending countries do not have oversight at this stage.
Another key concern is false cases of absconding and theft that employers may use vengefully to sidestep the worker-friendly labour laws.
Cancelling of visas during the notice period could also hinder a worker’s ability to easily change jobs.
In terms of the minimum wage, the allowance earmarked for food (QR300) and accommodation (QR500) are woefully low, given Qatar’s very high cost of living. A decent bed space depending on the area costs no less than QR700. Anything cheaper would mean overcrowded rooms with 5-6 bunk beds. Accommodations that provide access to a kitchen would cost more.
Even at just two meals a day, of QR10 (US$2.7) each, monthly food expenses would amount to QR600. If they were to cook their own meals, the costs would be only fractionally lower, but still well above the QR300 allocated for it.
Qatar has said it would be reviewing the minimum wage periodically.
MR will be monitoring the implementation and workers’ experiences in enjoying the full benefits of these reforms.
For more details on the reforms, read our earlier article here.
Some of our key recommendations:
- 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.