Qatar: applaudable change in working conditions for migrants

DOHA (Parliament Politics Magazine) –  Shayne (name changed)  has worked with the same firm for seven years in Qatar, working at a food booth six days a week.

During this time, she has not gotten a pay raise, and her income was lower than that mentioned in the contract she signed in the Philippines before coming to Qatar.

Shayne decided to retire in December of last year in search of a new challenge and a greater wage due to the growing requirements of her family back home.

As soon as her resignation was delivered, her manager called her and stated that the sponsor was furious, her visa would be revoked, and that she would be forced to return to her country, she told Al Jazeera.

Shayne faced accusation of working two jobs a few weeks later, despite the fact that she was still reporting to work every day. Her ID was cancelled, and she was charged with false absconding.

She was warned of being sent back home without her dues, which included her salary and end-of-service perks for the seven years she had served.

Shayne was legally entitled to a notice period of two months and then a grace period of three months to hunt for new employment in addition to her dues.

There are many such stories of migrants who tried to change their jobs.

Changes in the labour laws

Migrant workers previously were required to obtain the permission of their employer– in the form of a no-objection certificate (NOC) – before they changed jobs under Qatar’s Kafala (sponsorship) system, a law that rights activists claimed tied their presence in the country to their employers and led to exploitation and abuse.

Qatar announced historic labour law changes in August 2020, including the elimination of the necessity for a NOC.

The announcement was the latest in a slew of labour changes by the country, whose treatment of migrant workers and human rights record have been a focus since it was granted the hosting of 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The new amendments are inclusive of raising the number of labour dispute resolution committees in an effort to reduce labour disputes, facilitate workers’ access to rights, and expedite legal proceedings, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (ADLSA) in August of last year.

While some workers were successful in changing employment, the majority of those questioned by Al Jazeera faced delays in the process, as well as threats, exploitation by the sponsor and harassment with some workers being sent to jail and subsequently deported.

Some workers have taken back their applications for transfer because of the fear of being sent home, others have told Al Jazeera that they have had to go into hiding pending the outcome, fearful of being detained and deported.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, a Qatari government spokesperson said the reforms had changed the labour market.

These measures would have a significant impact. The labour market had been revolutionised as a result of their efforts, the statement continued. The new approach contributed to nearly 78,000 successful job transfers in the last quarter of 2020 [when the laws were altered].”

Changing the behaviour of companies does not happen overnight, but they were taking the steps necessary to convey a strong message that illegal activities would not be accepted.

The delays, according to lawyers and activists working on some of these cases, were caused by the government being overwhelmed by the large number of transfer requests and complaints, and not having adequate resources to deal with them.

Eleni Kyriakou

Eleni is a journalist and analyst at Parliament Magazine focusing on European News and current affairs. She worked as Press and Communication Office – Greek Embassy in Lisbon and Quattro Books Publications, Canada. She is Multilingual with a good grip of cultures, eye in detail, communicative, effective. She holds Master in degree from York University.