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Qatar labour reform no fundamental change for migrant workers, expert

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Doha, Qatar. Getty Images Flickr/Omar Chatriwala

Qatar is getting ready to implement labour reforms that will guarantee wages for its 1.2 million migrant workers. The Gulf state has drawn international criticism over the way it treats workers from India, Nepal or Bangladesh in the run-up to 2022 football World Cup.


The Wage Protection system that comes into effect on Tuesday aims to ensure that migrants will receive their pay on time.

Under the new system, workers will be paid either twice a month or monthly and the wages electronically transferred direct to their bank accounts.

“The idea is that, through the scheme, we’ll be able to identify how much they are paid and if there are any irregularities,” explains Mustafa Quadri, a Gulf migrant rights researcher at Amnesty International.

“That’s a really important thing but it won’t fundamentally change the situation,” he adds. “What we don’t know, after tomorrow, is what steps Qatar will take to see if employers have actually addressed these problems.”

A 2013 academic study, Portrait of Low-Income Migrants in Contemporary Qatar, found that around a fifth of migrant workers were "sometimes, rarely or never" paid on time.

The reform was announced back in February – with18 August as the end of a six-month grace period for businesses to be ready for the scheme.

From that date, companies which fail to pay their staff on time will face fines of up to 1,485 euros and be banned from hiring new staff.

“One of the biggest challenges in Qatar over migrant workers is the supply chain,” outlines Quadri. “When you have 1.6 million workers, hundreds of thousands of them are employed by smaller companies, which are very hard to enforce through this system. There is a real question whether this law will actually have an impact.”

Working conditions of migrants workers in Qatar have attracted criticism by numerous organisations, including the UN.

The country is reported to have imposed tough condition on migrants, many working on 2022 World cup related projects.

According to a report publish by newspaper The Guardian last year, Nepalese migrants have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014.

That's why Qatari authorities pledged to reform the country's labour laws a year ago.

“Yes, the situation is quite challenging to migrants. But I feel what is often not covered is the issue of recruitment,” says Aakash Jayaprakash, an expert on migration and human rights.

“These workers come to Qatar from south-east Asian countries … it’s often there that the workers are being told that they are going to get x but then they’re given y,” he adds. “According to the UN definition, that constitutes to human trafficking. These agencies, they charge exhorbitant and illegal workers' fees. They call them fees but in reality it should be called extortion, which is illegal.”

Most right groups – including Amnesty International – worry that Qatar is not doing enough to reform its labour market.

The country still has to reform its “kafala” system, which some have likened to modern-day slavery.

Under the current set of laws, foreign workers are not allowed to switch jobs or leave the country without the permission of their employers who act as sponsors.

Qatar has pledged to reform it by the end of 2015.

"We find that very unlikely [that this will happen],” says Quadri. “In fact the reform the government is promising, which is welcome, is in no way a removal of kafala. It’s a change of the system, putting some limitation on it, but they are not removing it. And yet even if we focus on those limited reforms, it’s not certain that it will happen this year. We already seen, since May 2014, when many reforms were promised, none of those were actually implemented in any major way.”