The passage of Qatar’s new landmark domestic workers law this week has been hailed by many rights groups as a step forward.
For the first time, nannies, cooks, gardeners, drivers and other house help in Qatar have contractual rights, such as set working hours, end-of-service benefits and rest breaks.
But the legislation still affords these workers less rights than other employees in Qatar who are covered by the labor law, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.
Here are five examples of how:
1. Longer working days
The domestic workers law allows for a maximum 10-hour working day and unspecified rest breaks.
The labor law however allows a maximum eight-hour workday (and 48-hour workweek), with rest required every five hours.
No paid overtime
According to the domestic workers law, household help can work overtime “if the employee agrees”, but no OT pay is required.
The labor law meanwhile stipulates that employers working late be paid at least 25 to 50 percent extra on top of their basic wage.
According to Amnesty International, “it is not at all clear how domestic workers will be protected against pressure from employers to work longer hours.”
The group urged authorities to clarify the matter or consider amending/removing the provision.
Unclear sick leave
While the new law makes it illegal to force domestic workers to report to work when sick, it unclear whether such leave should be paid.
Under the labor law however, employees are entitled to two weeks of sick leave at full pay, four weeks at half pay and unpaid leave after that.
Such loopholes mean household helpers are still “second-class workers with weaker protections,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
No grievance mechanism
Qatar’s domestic workers will not be able to utilize the country’s new labor dispute committee because they are not under the labor law.
Whether they have recourse in the courts remains unclear.
This leaves them without a grievance mechanism to enforce their rights, and “has major implications for whether the new law will succeed in reducing the abuse of domestic workers,” Amnesty International said.
While employers can be fined for flouting the domestic workers law, the legislation does not mention how the rules would be enforced.
Included in the labor law meanwhile is a clause that establishes a workplace inspection unit.
The legislation outlines what kinds of authority inspectors have when visiting companies, and what penalties they can deliver.
“Qatar and its neighbors are moving in the right direction on domestic workers’ rights,” Begum said. “But for these highly vulnerable workers, the Gulf countries need to bolster protections and strongly enforce laws.”