Recent reforms to Qatar’s labour laws have “transformed” the country’s labour market with the new non-discriminatory minimum wage providing additional financial security, Qatar’s government has said.
On Saturday, Qatar’s new minimum wage law came into effect, the latest in a series of reforms the country has implemented in recent years.
The new legislation ensures all employees receive a minimum monthly wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275), as well as a minimum allowance of 300 riyals for food and 500 riyals for housing, unless their employer provides both.
Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers has been under the spotlight since it was awarded the hosting of football’s 2022 World Cup in 2010.
Under Qatar’s “kafala”, or sponsorship, system, migrant workers needed to obtain their employer’s permission before changing jobs – a law that rights activists said left employees dependent on the goodwill of their bosses, and often led to abuse and exploitation.
In August 2020, Qatar scrapped a rule requiring employers’ consent to change jobs.
However, migrant workers told Al Jazeera of their continued struggle while trying to change jobs, with the majority of those interviewed by Al Jazeera saying they experienced delays in the process as well as threats, harassment and exploitation by the sponsor, with some of the workers ending up in prison and eventually deported.
A Qatari government spokesperson told Al Jazeera in a statement that “in the final quarter of 2020 [when the laws were amended], the new system contributed to over 78,000 successful job transfers”.
“The most significant development has been the dismantling of the ‘Kafala’ system, which contractually tied workers to their employer,” the statement said. “The impact of these reforms cannot be underestimated. They have transformed our labour market.
“On the health and safety front, we have introduced new measures and raised standards. Modern accommodations have been built across the country to improve the living conditions for thousands of workers, and the capacity of labour inspectors has been strengthened to monitor accommodation and working conditions, and crackdown on violators which often leads to jail time.”
Qatar’s labour ministry has maintained it welcomes workers lodging their complaints, but most of the workers Al Jazeera spoke to said they refrained for fear of repercussions – including abscondment cases – from their employers, having witnessed several examples of the power imbalance first-hand.
“Most workers don’t have the knowledge or support system to stand up to powerful employers and challenge these false charges,” Vani Saraswathi, director of projects at Migrant-Rights.Org, told Al Jazeera. “All of this serves to harass workers and discourage others from changing jobs.”
The government statement added: “We know that implementation and enforcement are critical if the reforms are to be a success, and we also know that some companies will try to bypass the changes, as they have in the past. It is our job to stop them.
“Each year, our labour inspectors carry out thousands of inspections at work and accommodation sites across the country. Violations of the law are recorded, and penalties are handed down through the courts. In the final quarter of 2020, over 7,000 penalties were issued, ranging from minor offences to more serious offences that have resulted in hefty fines and jail time.”