Experts welcome Qatar labour reforms as kafala system nears abolition

New International Labour Organisation office signals intention to prioritise worker welfare – as international pressure over conditions continues

Unions and employment experts have broadly welcomed the likely end of the kafala system of exit permits for foreign workers in Qatar, as the country steps up its labour market reforms in the face of international pressure over working conditions in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup.

Kafala – which requires expat workers to receive an exit visa from their employers before they can leave the country – is widely expected to be formally abolished in a matter of weeks. This is consistent with pledges given by prime minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani earlier this year.

The step-up in employee relations comes after the International Labour Organisation (ILO) opened an office in the country to mark the commencement of a new three-year programme of cooperation with the government to better regulate working conditions as football’s showpiece draws nearer.

His Excellency Dr Issa bin Saad Al Jafali Al Nuaimi, Qatar’s Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, said at the opening of the office that the country had become a “role model in workers’ welfare” and had been updating legislation to meet international standards.

“Qatar is leading in terms of hosting large numbers of expatriate workers who come annually to meet the needs of its ambitious development plans,” he added. “The workforce come from different levels and specialities, as they come from all over the world and live together with their various religions cultures and lifestyles – making Qatar a model for people with different religions and cultures living together.”

Qatar has been under pressure after a series of investigations suggested widespread labour issues in its construction industry, in particular on sites involved in World Cup stadia.

In March, the country announced a new labour panel which would investigate grievances raised by employees and offer compensation to individuals who had been wrongly dismissed.

Qatar has formed a task force with the UK government, which has offered advice on how to reform labour law as it looks to increase the number of British businesses investing in the country in the coming years. The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement that it will “continue to press the Qatari government to take further steps to tackle the problem of workers’ rights, and engage with the Qatari government on this issue.”

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