Qatar has announced a labor reform which seeks to terminate the so-called “kafala system”, a form of indentured labor that in practice has resulted in preventing migrant workers from leaving the country by their employers.
The step is being taken following the pressure from the International Trade Union Confederation, which has led the international effort to remove this system.
“The new guidance from Qatar signals the start of real reforms in Qatar which will bring to an end the use of modern slavery and puts the country on the pathway to meeting its international legal obligations on workers’ rights. Following discussions in Doha there is a clear government commitment to normalize industrial protections for migrant workers,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
“For the ITF this means a potential sea change for transport workers, in aviation, in ports, and in public transport. We will now work within this agreement to build protection for them as workers, with good, sustainable jobs, recognizing international standards and best practice,” ITF general secretary Steve Cotton commented.
“The existence of the kafala system, and the maltreatment of workers that it permitted has been an international scandal, and we applaud everyone – union, worker, NGO and journalist – who has exposed and fought against it. This promise is great news, which allies well with our own talks with the Qatari government on improving conditions for workers in the country,” ITF president Paddy Crumlin said.
Specifically, the Qatari government committed to having employment contracts lodged with a government authority to prevent contract substitution, ending the practice of workers arriving in the country only to have their contract torn up and replaced with a different job, often on a lower wage.
In addition, employers will no longer be able to stop their employees from leaving the country, and a minimum wage will be prescribed as a base rate covering all workers, ending the race-based system of wages.
Identification papers will be issued directly by the State of Qatar, and workers will no longer rely on their employer to provide their ID card without which workers can be denied medical treatment.
In addition, workers’ committees are planned to be established in each workplace, with workers electing their own representatives, together with a special disputes resolution committee with a timeframe for dealing with grievances.
“These initiatives have the support of the ITUC, and we hope that implementation will be also supported by the ILO with its technical expertise. Much remains to be done, but these steps open the way for workers to be treated with dignity and for their lives and livelihoods to be protected,” Burrow concluded.