“I was looking for a nanny. My neighbour’s nanny had a cousin who had been working in Qatar for five years and wanted to change jobs. So we offered her a job, thinking it was easy now to change jobs. But her current employer is demanding QR15,000 to allow her to change jobs.”
“They say WISA is a government company, so I need NOC.”
“I went to Huda tower [where ADLSA is located] and they told me I need a signed and stamped resignation letter from my company.”
“My madam says she will fire me and deport me if I join another family even though I have finished my contract. She says she will not give me my gratuity.”
“My old employer wants my new employer to pay QR10000 to give back my passport. My old employer has not even given me my end of service for three years and half a month salary is also pending.”
A year after Qatar rolled out significant reforms on job mobility, the kinks are slowly being ironed out, and what is on paper remains a far cry from what is practiced. The groups that are struggling the most to benefit from the reforms are women migrant workers, particularly those in domestic work and cleaning sectors.
Over the past year, Migrant-Rights.org has recorded numerous cases of women migrants struggling to change jobs. And while domestic workers are at a particular disadvantage to navigate the system, the ongoing obscurity on the requirements for job change has made it difficult for all workers.
Nan* came to Qatar in early 2019 from East Africa. She was one of two domestic workers in a household. Unable to tolerate the long hours, verbal abuse, and salary far lower than what was promised, she tried filing a complaint, and finally left her employer’s home at the end of 2020. Her Qatar ID had not been processed, and her passport was not in her possession. Even though she had job offers, she has not been able to change her job officially due to the status of her documentation. “The ministry knows and they tried speaking to baba, but he is with the police I think. No one can touch him,” she says. She continues to live and work in Qatar undocumented. Though Nan had received some assistance from the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour, and Social Affairs, her embassy encouraged her to return to the employer to finish her contract and then return home.
Mel* came to Qatar in May 2018. She worked for a large family in Doha’s Old Airport (Mattar Qadeem) area. Though she was paid her contracted salary every month, she did not get a weekly day off and worked almost round-the-clock. At the end of her contract, she asked to return home. “My baba said my contract is for three years, but I said all OFW (Overseas Foreign Workers, a term used by the Philippines government) only have a two-year contract. But he refused and then Covid happened and he said I cannot leave now.”
Mel did not even have a phone number until she had to get the vaccination. “Only for vaccination, they got me a SIM card and phone (a requirement to install the Ehteraz app). Then this year in April, I contacted a community group on FB and they got in touch with POLO OWWA.”
When they in turn appealed to the employer to settle her dues and give her a ticket to go home, the situation took a turn for the worse.
“I was thrown out of their home. They already got another khadaama… they didn’t give my ID or passport or gratuity, and the 15 days salary for what I worked.”
With the group’s help, Mel found another household to work in. “The new employer tried asking baba for my passport and ID to change jobs, but baba is demanding they give him QR10,000 (US$2750). It’s a lot of money and I am still not sure if they will give it though they gave me some hope.”
Though she has filed a complaint with the Philippines Overseas Labour Office (POLO) in Qatar, without her QID or passport she is reluctant to go to the Ministry of Administrative, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA).
Based on conversations with workers and potential employers, the demand from the current employers can be anywhere from QR6000(US$1650) to QR15000 (US$4100), depending on the worker’s nationality, in addition to foregoing all dues. As per new regulations, the new employer must only reimburse the old employer if the worker changes jobs during the probation period, which cannot exceed one month’s salary. The minimum wage is currently QR1,000 (US$275) plus accommodation and food (or QR500 and QR300 respectively as allowance).
“All my friends and colleagues who tried changing jobs get the same message from ADLSA. That we need a resignation letter signed and stamped by our employer. Our companies don’t give that. They demand money or say they won’t give our end of service money.”
Principle vs Practice
Most migrant workers and particularly domestic workers depend on the word-of-mouth network of their compatriots. The most pervasive narrative is that a NOC is still required, and incidents of workers being deported for challenging employers gain more traction than official messaging by the government.
This is not only because there is little or no trust in official mechanisms and channels, but also because of conflicting messages both in the media and by the Ministry itself.
Last November, mere weeks after the reforms came into force, a senior MADLSA official said that a resignation letter stamped and signed by the current employer would be required to process job changes. The statement came in response to severe pushback from powerful segments of the Qatari society, including the Shura Council.
However, the then head of the ILO Qatar office had said the letter was merely a good practice and not a requirement. To date, the ministry’s website and messaging make no mention of this requirement. In practice, it is the employer who decides, and the resignation letter has become a de facto NOC, as MR has previously noted.
The official messaging on paper (see sidebar for context provided by the ILO) competes with practice and lived experiences on the ground. It is also often strengthened by home country diplomatic missions that advise their citizens to not be confrontational, as in the case of Nan.
Jane* whose cousin was deported after the employer filed a counter-complaint, says her friends and colleagues are afraid to carry out the process online as it may anger the employer and lead to more complications. “It is not only for khadaamas (domestic workers), it is also those in cleaning companies and hospitality. The problem is the company asks for money for NOC. And the consequence is going back to our country. We are facing a problem getting a resignation [letter] with a stamp. When we go to the ministry they insist on the resignation with company stamp and signature or they won’t process it.”
For women migrants and domestic workers, to take on the employer would mean risking homelessness. “It is difficult for us women to find accommodation. We can be jailed if they find us in someone else’s accommodation. And where will we even have the money to pay rent,” asks Jane.
“I tried filing a complaint and tried hard to change jobs. But I am now back home [in the Philippines] and my madam says there is a ban against me.”
WISA prevents job change
It is not only the individual employer and private sector companies that are quashing job mobility. WISA (Qatar Manpower Solutions Co), a government-owned entity that provides live-out services to households, has also been turning down workers’ requests to change jobs.
Sita* was recruited from Nepal in March 2019 on a general cleaner contract by WISA. “I have finished my contract and wanted to change jobs as I got a better salary. But the company said that they cannot allow it. Only those they hired in Qatar are allowed to change jobs.”
Sita’s experience is echoed by several of her colleagues MR spoke to.
WISA currently employs about 300 employees primarily from Kenya, Ethiopia and Nepal. A fourth of them are women and the rest are male drivers. Before the pandemic, there were close to 500 workers. Many were terminated and those who were retained were given accommodation and basic salary alone. The company is in the process of recruiting more workers as demand is on the rise, according to one worker.
“Of the 300 of us now, almost all were recruited abroad, not locally. So we are not allowed to change jobs. They say it’s because they are a government company,” she said.
An official MR spoke to clarified that the job change rule applies to all companies, including those in the public sector. “The removal of the NOC covers all workers, including workers in the public sector. However, the regulations to terminate employment varies. For workers in the public sector, termination of employment is regulated by Law No. 15 of 2016 and Decision of the Council of Ministers No. 32 of 2016.”
A representative of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) that works closely with the ILO and Qatari government told MR that they would continue to monitor the situation and work closely with the MADLSA to look into this practice of requiring a NOC to change jobs. “If they really want us to believe that the Kafala system is being abolished. We recommend that MADLSA remind the employers through the mainstream media that they should be in parallel with the State of Qatar's vision in improving migrant domestic workers' welfare. The freedom to change jobs is all migrant workers' rights. The Ministry should impose harsher penalties for violators.”