After coming under fire, Qatar vows to offer foreign workers a better deal

After facing mounting international criticism, Doha says employment terms will be reformed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 2:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 7:38pm


Qatar, which will host the 2022 soccer World Cup, said yesterday it would abolish its controversial sponsorship system for foreign workers as international criticism mounts over their treatment.

It "will be replaced with a system based on employment contracts", as part of a package of labour reforms, the government said in a statement.

Sponsorship systems for foreign workers exist in most Gulf countries, which employ millions of foreigners, especially from Asia. The system has been strongly criticised by human rights groups and likened to modern-day slavery.

The Qatari reforms will also end the longstanding requirement that foreign workers obtain their employer's consent before leaving the country.

"The current exit permit system, which requires the employers' consent for an employee to leave the country, will now be replaced with an automated system through the ministry of interior," the statement said.

The new system will automatically grant an exit permit to an employee "after a 72-hour grace period prior to departure", the statement said.

The legal limbo that foreign workers could face under the existing system were highlighted by the case of French soccer player Zahir Belounis, who was finally allowed to leave Qatar in November last year. He had been denied an exit visa for 17 months in a pay dispute with his club Al-Jaish, whose chairman is a brother of Qatar's ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

The government will also raise the fine for employers who confiscate the passports of foreign workers to 50,000 rials (HK$105,000) from the current 10,000 rials to stamp out the illegal but still common practice.

Foreign workers will also be able to change jobs at the end of their contract, without the need for the certificate they currently require that their previous employer has no objection.

If the contract is an open-ended one, a foreign worker will be able to change jobs after five years.

Officials gave no precise timeline for implementation of the promised reforms.

Qatar's treatment of its massive foreign workforce has been under the international spotlight as it launches a massive construction programme for the world soccer showcase in 2022.

Amnesty International charged that the tens of thousands of migrant workers building the multibillion-dollar World Cup infrastructure were being treated like "animals", with hundreds dying on the construction sites, and launched a campaign for wholesale reforms.