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Friday, December 3, 2021

Expats express disappointment with proposed labor law changes

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Worker / refinery / construction
Photo for illustrative purposes only

After months of promises of “wide-ranging labor reforms” by senior government officials, yesterday’s proposed changes to Qatar’s employment laws came as a disappointment to many residents and human rights activists.

Thousands of people weighed in on the reform ideas in the hours after yesterday’s announcement. Key pledges from officials included allowing fixed-term employees to freely change jobs upon completing their contract, and giving the Ministry of Interior – rather than employers and sponsors – the authority to grant exit permits.

That fell short of many residents’ expectations:

https://twitter.com/riyatrix/status/466573384512315394

At issue for many was the promised removal of no-objection certificates, which foreign workers are currently required to obtain from their employers before taking a new job.

Without an NOC, expats must leave Qatar for at least two years before being allowed to work for a different employer.

While fixed-term workers will be able to change jobs more easily under the proposed reforms, those on indefinite contracts would have to wait at least five years before changing jobs without their employer’s permission.

The change has prompted concern among some that companies would simply cease offering limited-duration job contracts.

And on Facebook, Haji T. Mammadov said:

“It’ll just force all employers to hire on indefinite in order not to give NOCs, which basically means that employees coming to work in Qatar will be forced to stick around with one employer for 5 years.”

Others suggested that the proposed changes will actually make it more difficult for some to change jobs.

In a comment left on Doha News, user Bornrich said:

“At the company I work for we have a rolling contract, as I imagine many professionals in Qatar do. The announcement has in effect clarified that employees are now locked into a 5 year tenure with their employer. Prior to the announcement an NOC was negotiable between the employer and employee.

And indeed, I have first hand knowledge of colleagues who successfully negotiated an NOC after as little as 1-2 years of service, often achieved through foregoing accrued holiday payouts or flights or staying on an extra month (or two). Now the employer can legitimately hold the employee for 5 years without issuing an NOC.”

There was also confusion over what happens if an expat signs an open-ended contract and quits or is fire after less than five years, and whether that person could pursue a new job in Qatar.

Exit visas

Questions are also being raised over how the Ministry of Interior will operate the new exit permit regime. Under the proposed changes, expats would file an application using the government’s Metrash 2 system at least 72 hours prior to departure (emergency travel requests will be handled separately).

Employers would be notified of the request and could lodge an objection to their employee’s travel plans. Those objections would then be heard by a government committee.

That proposal would theoretically make it more difficult for the employer to stop an expat from leaving the country. But some say it doesn’t go far enough:

https://twitter.com/sahmylicious/status/466605975911538689

And on Doha News, commenter Humza Ahmad said:

“Any employee putting application on MOI system without notifying will be stopped by employer stating he have important piece of work to do, which will make this thing go to arbitration and meaning the employee cannot leave on time. Worse, we are talking about layman labour to file online exit permit request. Good luck with that – they don’t have computers.”

Additionally, the grounds under which an expat could be denied an exit permit remain in question, noted Amnesty International researcher James Lynch in a statement:

“It remains unclear how proposed reforms to the exit permit will work in practice, and whether under the new proposal employers will retain the ability to object to workers leaving the country.”

Amnesty – which published a 169-page report in November detailing abuses in Qatar’s construction sector – called Wednesday’s announcement “a missed opportunity” to address the “systemic” mistreatment of migrant workers in Qatar.

“The government claims it is abolishing the sponsorship system, but this sounds like a change of name rather than substantive reform,” Lynch added.

Timeline for approval

Wednesday’s press conference was unique in that government officials announced their proposal at an early stage of the legislative process, and took questions from journalists. Generally, the public often learns of pending laws or amendments from a paragraph or two released by the state-run Qatar News Agency following Cabinet approval.

Nevertheless, no firm timeline was given for these proposals, which still need to be circulated to the country’s Chamber of Commerce and be approved by the Advisory (Shura) Council. This has upset some residents:

https://twitter.com/richiesegura/status/466564540571066368

An on Facebook, Jean-Claude Chidiac said:

“(Nothing) has changed. All these nicely said new laws still to be approved by Ministry of Commerce and Shura. And this might take another 10 years.”

Praise

Although outnumbered by those expressing disappointment, some residents and outside observers reacted positively to the announcement. Several Qataris in particular pointed out that the announcement was a step in the right direction.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who has been under international pressure to push Qatar to curb the abuse of migrant workers ahead of the 2022 World Cup, also weighed in.

In a statement, he said:

“This announcement is a significant step in the right direction for sustainable change in the workers’ welfare standards in Qatar. We look forward to seeing the implementation of these concrete actions over the next months.”

FIFA also announced it was postponing a scheduled May visit – billed as a check-up on labor rights in Qatar – to give the international football association “time to gain a better understanding of the measures that were presented (Wednesday).”

Others also had positive comments on the proposals:

https://twitter.com/jforage/status/466566934109368320

https://twitter.com/SheCrownLita/status/466566818187182081

Thoughts?

35 COMMENTS

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John Laprise
John Laprise
7 years ago

It’s a step. Unfortunately it’s not clear whether it is a step forward or backwards. The final implemented law will provide more clarity. Unfortunately, given the state of enforcement of current labor laws, this does not inspire optimism.

Bursin
Bursin
7 years ago

All retch and no vomit.

Salman Alansari
Salman Alansari
7 years ago

I think People just like to complain. it is just too early to say if this is positive change or not. besides, once this becomes a law, revisions can come afterwards to fix any mistakes.

I think all contracts renewed this year should be looked at after implementing the law and indefinite contracts should be banned later on if it causes too much trouble

Jaded
Jaded
7 years ago

banning indefinite contracts and leaving exit permits and NOC-style restrictions in place would basically be going in 100% the wrong direction, and in direct contradiction to how all free markets operate

Salman Alansari
Salman Alansari
7 years ago
Reply to  Jaded

I only said banning indefinite contracts because its what people complain about. I don’t see exist permit however being removed anytime soon and I really think its better for everyone to have the government as a middle man here.

Jaded
Jaded
7 years ago

indefinite contracts are not bad nor unusual, they just mean you’re signing on to work for someone, with no specific deadline or end, and this is only a problem if it means that while you’re working for that company you’re locked in, which is the actual complaint people have. So the solution is to remove unfair restrictions, not to create fixed timeline within which you’re restricted

The Reporter
The Reporter
7 years ago

Maybe Salman, your culture sees little wrong in the Kafala, I don’t know, but to even suggest that there might be positives from what has been announced is madness. Short term contracts will end. NOC’s and exit visas will remain in place. The state sponsored system of slavery is unchanged. A PR disaster.

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago

Let’s look at the consequences of the announcement.

Employers – not happy and will still fight the changes but at least the announcement didn’t contain any drastic changes. Locals can still use their wasta thru the govt and let’s face it the govt and business owners are one and the same thing.

Intl community – a PR disaster. Probably best if they have done nothing. Expect a tsunami of negative publicity from the worlds press and various organisations. It will step up now and get worse.

Expats in Qatar – again probably best to have nothing rather than create an expectation of change. Now morale has been hit across the country, which will impact productivity.

I find it hard to see who benefits from these cosmetic changes and the first time the system goes down and expat can get their exit visas expect a huge backlash. Well as they say here, what ya gonna do, yanni.

William
William
7 years ago

Yesterday I was fairly uplifted by what I interpreted as positive steps. This article and the perspectives of many who contributed really changes my optimism. The laws that are currently in place for NOC and exit permits are not actually bad in terms of intent, they are bad in the way that they are enforced. The new laws are basically written to give the employer and the government the exact same grayness of interpretation to make it possible to hold employees against their will in the company and the country. Like the old laws, it is all in how they are interpreted and enforced.

Smart business owners and managers have the time, inclination, and resources to study the loopholes in the laws and make them work to their advantage. It is the employees in Qatar, from various places around the world, who are without the knowledge and resources or clear information and representation. Even well paid managers applying for a job in Qatar may not understand all the terms of an indefinite contract or understand what that means to them. Perhaps at this level they could hire legal support to help interpret the contract into Qatar Law implications. Most would not go this far. Many of the lower income workers cannot even afford to go that far. Who is representing these people in Qatar?

There are two sides to every consideration, and it is obvious that the old Kafala system and the new Employer/ Employee system considered deeply the needs of the Qatari business owners (who by law own 51% of everything), and their partners and managers (who own the other 49%). It seems the laws were most definitely written from the perspective of trying to appease the international community without effectively having to change a whole lot. The new laws really completely miss the voice of the people (the 80% expat community) that it is supposed to changing for.

I agree with John Laprise below – Qatar has never enforced current laws to the favor of the 80%. I am not sure they will start now.

AMM
AMM
7 years ago

I really do think the government should hire some good PR specialist! That was such a bad move to announce only intentions, plus the changes are so unclear that are causing all those doubts and negative comments. Plus right away The Guardian released 5 negative articles about Qatar! All on the same day!

dohadude
dohadude
7 years ago
Reply to  AMM

unclear is right – a local in our office swears the 5 year rule for open-ended contracts applies to only bank employees. I can’t find that info anywhere, but is anyone checking to make sure what’s in the English press is the same as what’s said in the Arabic press?

Mr. B
7 years ago

Clearly the Qatari government needs more international abuse before it’ll consider the welfare of its expatriates. I don’t know what group of people thought up this nonsense, but they’ll find it has pleased few and improved nothing. I was watching al Jazeera America yesterday when they announced this; almost within a breath, a representative of Human Rights Watch was there pointing it out as the nothing that it is.

Too bad. They could have made real changes that bought them genuine goodwill. But they seem to insist on learning the hard way.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
7 years ago
Reply to  Mr. B

they said no people died while constructing infrastructures for WC2022 and here it comes another article from the guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/14/migrant-workers-dying-qatar-world-cup?CMP=twt_gu

AFG
AFG
7 years ago

We should have get the hint when they say “this will benefit ALL parties”, not just expats.

Nothing new here. Let’s continue eat those grass as ordered by master.

johnny
johnny
7 years ago
Reply to  AFG

Yeah, we know which parties, the government should be ashamed, but they have no shame

SullyofDoha
SullyofDoha
7 years ago

I find the ‘positive comments’ in the article laughable. At best, the trusting comments are ignorantly cute. As Shakespeare once wrote ‘Much ado about nothing.’

dohadude
dohadude
7 years ago

Yesterday I was leaving work just after the announcement was made. My driver, who owns his own cab company with 40 employees, asked about the changes. I told him I thought the NOC was going to be revoked and he asked if this was going to be the case for all contracts. He then told me he was sending all of his employees back to India so they could return on a new open contract.

After reading later last night about the differences between short and extended contracts, I suspect he knew this was the direction things were going. Were business owners given a head’s up? In a country where (almost) every company needs a 51% Qatari partner, how does shifting exit visa approval from the sponsor to the government make this more transparent/fair? Other than perhaps the government through the shear number of applications will (hopefully) pass most of them?

I wonder how many of his employees are aware that if they return, the new contract will start over and they can’t transfer to a new job for 5 years. That’s worse than the present situation where you can negotiate (or purchase if desperate) an NOC from your sponsor in less time.

DickDePilot
DickDePilot
7 years ago

Said I wouldn’t hold my breath and so glad that I didn’t!

santosh
santosh
7 years ago

wowoooooooooooo……..i’m so happy…

FA.
FA.
7 years ago

This disappointment is disgusting and not reasonable at all! All countries have such regulations US for example has several types of visas and you can’t leave your work without procedure to save each party rights. The amendment to Labor Law is very good and fair enough in my perspective. Some expats want to live as citizens and this is not possible anywhere.

I hope our government stay firm and anyone dislikes our country, simply leave. I was supporting the change of Labor Law ’cause the old one was so restrictive and unfair, but this one is definitely as good as the American one or any other country you might like.

Regards,

Lawyer.

Myrddin
Myrddin
7 years ago
Reply to  FA.

“All countries have such regulations…”

Wrong! I can’t speak for the US but as a Brit I’ll enlighten you on what happens in UK, and I would confidently say that a similar position is held by most, if not all, developed countries.

Any employer who lays out an expense to the benefit of an employee, be it applying for an employment visa, or covering the costs of tuition for example, is entitled to ‘bond’ that employee for a ‘reasonable’ amount of time to recover the cost of the investment. In that bonding agreement will be fully transparent, and legally binding, exit terms. Those exit terms will normally equate to year on year decreasing repayment of costs incurred by the employer. The employer is at risk; if the employee leaves, and refuses to pay, the employer can only pursue the matter through the courts to recover costs. At no time could the employer vindictively prevent the employee leaving the country. Only a court judge could order that restriction, and if the employee wasn’t the subject of criminal activity then even that is unlikely.

“Some expats want to live as citizens and this is not possible anywhere”

Maybe a small minority do? However, what the vast majority of expats would like is not citizenship, but plain and simple equality before the law – expedient law – just like any expat worker in UK, and indeed pretty much ‘everywhere’ in the developed world, would get!

“…but this one is definitely as good as the American one or any other country you might like.”

Sorry, if you truly believe that, I’m afraid I would be compelled to consider you delusional?

johnny
johnny
7 years ago
Reply to  Myrddin

Here here, good for you, but be careful, those dissenting will probably be the subject of a witch hunt, I have had my salary reduced for complaining already and don’t say quote labour law that states your company cannot reduce your salary, I did and was told ok, we will fire you and you will be gone in a week, it’s a joke.

Desert Witch
Desert Witch
7 years ago
Reply to  Myrddin

Here here.

Farhan Khurshid
7 years ago
Reply to  FA.

“Simply Leave”.. Typical attitude here..

johnny
johnny
7 years ago

Correct, and how will anything be finished, they will just bring in more mugs, who will wise up and also leave.

The Reporter
The Reporter
7 years ago
Reply to  FA.

You obviously have no concept of a free competitive labour market.

Luciano Salvatore
Luciano Salvatore
7 years ago
Reply to  FA.

I like your comment. It’s hilarious. I have even given you a vote up.

Guest
Guest
7 years ago

My fingers started aching as I kept them crossed for one whole day and when the announcement was made, I felt like showing those fingers.. Its a step backwards and full of confusion. “There was also confusion over what happens if an expat signs an open-ended contract and quits or is fire after less than five years, and whether that person could pursue a new job in Qatar.” I’ll give a party to a person who clears this doubt (with references)..

rory
rory
7 years ago

The Amnesty International researcher James Lynch in a statement, as mentioned above states that the DLA Piper report has been released. Can anyone please help with a link to that report?

johnny
johnny
7 years ago

I am so so disappointed, I am locked in to a contract with the worst American employer who will not give an NOC, I will have to leave Doha, where I love to live, warts and all, to escape, it is wrong, the authorities had an opportunity to tell employers you cannot treat staff like this, I expressed my concerns to my employer and they cut my salary, if I complain they say they will fire me, it is slave labour and until the government understands that there will be a mass exodus from QATAR, mark my words it is coming

Myrddin
Myrddin
7 years ago
Reply to  johnny

Aah! American bosses – I share your painful experiences. I too had the misfortune to be subjected to American managerial talent.
Scenario: A straightforwrd problem at the workplace. Identify problem, identify appropriate solution, apply solution, problem alleviated. Then along comes American Boss:-

AB: I didn’t tell you to do that. You don’t do nothin’ I don’t tell you to do (sic).
Self: OK ‘Boss’ I get it, won’t do that again.
AB: you’re goddamned right you won’t – if you do, your ass is fired!

Sometime later – another straightforward problem.

Self: OK ‘Boss’, what would you like me to do about this problem?
AB: Goddamn it, are you not able to think for yourself? – sort it out for yourself, or, I’ll fire your ass!

Loop back to the beginning of the scenario, and repeat 5 – 6 times a day!

Consequently, even when times have been a little thin, I have promised myself I will never work with American dominated management, ever again.

Jen
Jen
7 years ago

Very disappointed! I feel a bit embarrassed for having waited so optimistically!

The Reporter
The Reporter
7 years ago

Sepp Blatter must be madder than I thought to come out with a statement like that when nothing at all has changed for the better. Short term contracts will disappear and getting an exit visa in time via the MOI just creates uncertainty.

MGRS
MGRS
7 years ago

It is surprising to read articles in most news media about Qatar abolishing “KAFALA SYSTEM”.

Educated masses need to correct their grammar. It is not the system that is being abolished, but
the word – “KAFALA”. Now onwards same shall be called as “SPONSORSHIP” system.

Uneducated and Lower category people never showed interest in this reformation as much as the educated mass showed. Reason is they are brought on visas for the duration based on the PROJECT they work and they know that they have to return after completion. Hence they stay unaffected. Educated mass trusted the promises by the Authority and are depressed by the results of the proposal.

Surprise is, HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP might be happy with this and they would accept this as the biggest reform.

Now to silence the mass, it is being said that the Proposal is being looked into by a SUPERIOR Group for approving implementation.

There is no other way for Public to go other than accepting this, please do it faster and finish off.

Luciano Salvatore
Luciano Salvatore
7 years ago

Imagine the pandemonium when slaves are allowed to change jobs and the leash of exit permit cut off !!

The Qatari Businessmen Council will not let such a tragedy happen. Never.

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