With reporting from Lesley Walker
After more than a year of debate, Qatar has adopted changes to its controversial kafala sponsorship system, which will make it easier for some to switch jobs and leave the country.
The main reforms appear to be that there will be a new system to appeal refused exit permits.
Additionally, expats who finish fixed contracts will no longer need their sponsor’s approval to take up another job.
Previously, one had to wait two years to work in Qatar again if an employer refused to grant a no objection certificate to change jobs.
However, the reforms won’t come into effect for at least another year, according to state news agency QNA, which reported:
“HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on Tuesday issued Law No. 21 of 2015 on the regulation of the entry and exit of expatriates and their residency.
All concerned authorities, each in their capacity, are to implement the law and it will be applicable one year after its date of publication in the official gazette.”
The law comes more than a year after authorities promised reforms to the system, which has been widely criticized by human rights organizations for enabling the abuse of expats in Qatar at the hands of unscrupulous sponsors.
Foreign residents require their sponsor’s permission to obtain bank loans, a driver’s license and – most controversially – exit Qatar.
The new law updates the existing Law No. 4 of 2009 Regarding Regulation of the Expatriates’ Entry, Departure, Residence and Sponsorship.
According to a text of the law published in Arabic by Al Sharq tonight, the legislation does not use the word kafeel (sponsor), instead referring to the employer as “the person who licensed you to come into the country.”
One of the pledges from authorities was that it would become easier for expats to exit the country.
However, it appears the employer will continue to play a significant role in regulating the departure of his employees.
But now, instead of directly petitioning the sponsor, expats who wish to leave the country must inform the Ministry of Interior at least three business days before their exit.
The MOI would then wait for the sponsor’s approval or objection before permitting the exit, the law states:
“Other than this (any objections), the employee can leave the country once their employer informs the ministry of their approval that they can go on holiday.”
It added that expats can petition an MOI-sanctioned committee if the sponsor objects to their exit, a new feature that was not previously in the kafala law.
In the event of an emergency, the grievance committee would handle the petition within no more than three business days.
No objection certificate
With regards to the no-objection certificate (NOC), the former law stated that expats could not return to work in Qatar for two years after their contract ended unless they had their sponsor’s approval.
Now, after a fixed-term contract is up, an expat would not have to leave the country before changing jobs.
Articles 21-23 state that:
- An expat can change jobs before his contract ends if he obtains permission from his sponsor, the MOI and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs;
- An expat can change jobs if his contract has already ended if he gets the approval of MOI and MOLSA. In the case of expats with open-ended contracts, they can seek this approval after five years with their initial job; and
- An expat can also move to another sponsor – with the approval of MOI and MOLSA – if the sponsor is dead or the company no longer exists for any reason.
The law continued:
“In all cases, the rights of the employer or sponsor cannot be violated in accordance with the Labor Law (Law No. 14 for the year 2004) or the contract that is signed between the sponsor and employee.”
If there is a lawsuit pending between an employee and his sponsor, the MOI can transfer the employee to a temporary job. This provision only applies to those who fall under the labor law, so domestic workers would be excluded.
However, the text stated that the Minister of Interior or his delegates can also approve the transfer of an employee who doesn’t fall under the Labor Law if abuse from the sponsor has been proven or if it’s in the best public interest.
The new law also introduces strict penalties for recruiters who allow their employees to work for other parties without prior official approval.
Under Article 38, jail terms of up to three years and/or a maximum fine of
QR500,000 QR50,000 can be imposed for this violation. This also relates to employers who hire non-Qatari workers they haven’t officially recruited. Fines of QR12,000 can be imposed subject to the approval of the Minister of Interior or his deputy.
Wage protection system
Though this new legislation won’t take effect till late 2016 at the earliest, a different law also aimed improving workers’ rights in Qatar will launch next week – the wage protection system.
This is expected to make it easier for expats and the government to scrutinize and document any late or non-existing payments.
Employees should be paid in Qatari currency once a month directly into a bank account, or for some category of workers, every two weeks.
Firms that flout the new rules risk penalties of up to one month in prison and a maximum QR6,000 fine.
As the state’s banking regulator, Qatar Central Bank (QCB) is responsible for creating and handling the new system.
At the end of last year, it contacted all banks instructing them to be ready to receive workers’ wage files.
Banks were reportedly told that workers should be able to access their money at least five times a month for free before charges are imposed. Some banks and companies have said they plan to have mobile ATMS at labor camps to make it easier for their employees to get money out.
Note: This article has been edited to correctly reflect that the maximum fine for violation of A. 38 of the new law is QR50,000.