In what is being called “the biggest ever labor reform undertaken” in the country, Qatar has announced to end its “kafala” system for migrant labors.
However, human rights concerns persist.
The controversial labor sponsorship system that requires employees to obtain the permission of their bosses to leave the country or switch jobs has long contributed to the mass abuse of expat workers in oil-rich Arab countries.
The problems is far more widespread in Qatar, where the foreign workers account for more than half of the total population (of the 2.5 million people living in the country, 1.5 million are expats).
The Qatari government has decided to introduce a new contract-based law, coming into effect on Dec. 13, which would purportedly guarantee more protection of rights for labors.
"These new legislative changes, combined with ongoing enforcement and a commitment to systemic reform, not just in Qatar but also in countries of origin, will ensure workers' rights are respected across the entire labor pathway," the government said in a statement.
Despite the reforms, human rights groups allege the basic system that reduces migrant workers to modern-day slaves will remain unchanged.
As per the new law, exit visa required to leave the country from the employer will be abolished. However, employees would still require their boss’ permission to leave the country for as long as they work for them, which would still keep the workers dependent on their employers.
Also, expat workers do not know exactly what the reforms are and how they will benefit from them.
"I've heard about a change in the law, but what the change will be I don't know," Girijesh, an Indian electrician in Doha, told AFP.
“Key problems that drive abuse remain. In practice, employers can still stop migrant workers from leaving the country,” said James Lynch, deputy director for global issues at Amnesty International of the Qatar’s reform.
Although the new law has introduced a penalty for employers to hold passports of their workers — QR25,000 ($6,865) per worker — exceptions can reportedly be made “in certain cases where they live in confines that are considered at risk of being robbed.”
“The tragedy is that many workers think that this new law will be the end of their ordeal,” Lynch added.
Although labor abuse is pervasive nearly in all wealthy Persian Gulf countries, the pressure to introduce changes in laws pertaining to migrant workforce is all the more intense for Qatar, the richest country in the world, which has recruited hundreds of thousands of construction workers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, who are reportedly living in appalling conditions.
In a report released last December, the International Trades Union Confederation estimated the fatality rate for migrant workers to be over 1,000, predicting the total death toll by the time the soccer tournament kicks off could be as high as 7,000.