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Men's Football ITUC: 'Qatar is changing' with the abolition of the kafala system

QATAR claimed to abolish their vile “modern slavery” kafala system today and announced a new “evidence-based minimum wage law” from January 2020.

The bloodstained Gulf state won the right to stage the 2022 World Cup in a controversial vote by football’s governing body Fifa during December 2010.

In the wake of delivering the successful bid for international football’s showpiece event, there was increased scrutiny over Qatar’s diabolical labour laws governing the estimated two million migrant workers who have been exploited while building the infrastructure.

Despite numerous broken promises from the Qatari government to improve matters within the small, but oil-and-gas-rich, country, nothing was done.

Last month, human rights’ organisation Amnesty International published a 52-page report, titled All Work, No Pay: The Struggle of Qatar’s Migrant Workers For Justice, which points out that the pledges have “not yet been matched by reality.”

However, yesterday’s announcement to end the kafala system, a sytem of virtual enslavement under which their ability to leave the country or change job is entirely at the whim of their employer, saw International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) general secretary Sharan Burrow declare that “Qatar is changing.”

Exit visas for workers — including domestic workers, those in government and public institutions, and workers employed at sea, in agriculture as well as casual workers — have been eliminated and these workers finally have the same rights as all workers in Qatar. The same non-discriminatory law will apply for all workers including domestic workers.

From the start of next year, a new evidence-based minimum wage law that applies to all nationalities is established. 

The abolition of the no objection certificates (NOC) will also allow workers to change their jobs without the permission of their employer, following normal contractual commitments. 

“Qatar is changing,” said Burrow. “The new tranche of laws will bring an end to the kafala system of modern slavery: exit visas for all workers including domestic workers eliminated; a system of contracts that are transparent and labour courts to enforce them; the end to permission to leave a job, with criteria equivalent to any modern industrial relations system; and a government fund to ensure workers are not disadvantaged by exploitative employers, while the state pursues recovery of entitlements. 

“We recognise that an evidence-based minimum wage, the first of its kind in the Middle East, will be a major improvement for workers, and will guarantee a minimum level of protection. We urge the government to announce the new rate as quickly as possible. 

“Workers want to work in the Gulf states, they want to support their families at home, but they also want decent work where they are treated fairly and with dignity and respect. While we witness the changes in Qatar, sadly this is not the case in neighbouring countries where migrant workers are still treated as less than human with few rights and freedoms.

“The reforms need to become embedded in employment practice and strong legal compliance. But the partnership between the Qatar government and the ILO supported by the ITUC is working to change lives — to change a nation.”

The new laws will be submitted to the Advisory (Shura) Council in November and come into effect on January 1 2020.

The programme of reforms is part of a three-year technical co-operation agreement with the International Labour Organisation. A review of the agreement will be reported to the ILO Governing Body in November.

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