On 30 August, the Qatari government announced the adoption of Law No. 18 of 2020. This new law removes the requirement for migrant workers to obtain their employers’ permission to change jobs. Qatar also adopted a non-discriminatory minimum wage for migrant workers. This, coupled with the decision to end the requirement for workers to obtain permission from the employer to leave the country and consent to freely switch employer before the end of the original contract, effectively dismantles the “kafala” sponsorship system and greatly improves the flexibility of the Qatari labour market.

The kafala system has been condemned by rights groups as essentially holding employee’s prisoners, and Qatar has faced broader criticism for abuse by employers. Since 2017, Doha has gradually introduced several reform efforts to address these concerns, including relaxing some of the kafala restrictions and setting up labour tribunals. However, resources available for resolving disputes and avoiding illegal practices by employers, such as the confiscation of workers’ passports and failures to pay full salaries, need to be increased to make the new system fully effective.

In a Statement issued today MEPs Maria Arena (S&D, BE) Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and Hannah Neumann (The Greens/EFA, DE) is the Chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula on the dismantling of the “kafala system” for foreign workers in Qatar welcomed the historic decision.

“We welcome the historic decision to abolish the kafala system for foreign workers in Qatar as it represents a major achievement for the workers’ rights and the Qatari society as a whole, which is moving towards a more dynamic and non-discriminatory labour environment in the country. It further serves as a source of inspiration for other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. We are confident that the State of Qatar will continue on this path and proceed swiftly with the full implementation of these reforms in order to remove the remaining discriminatory rules against foreign workers, such as the right of employers to file criminal ‘absconding’ charges against workers who leave their job without permission. Increasing the oversight of the public administration responsible for the procedures of renewing and cancelling workers’ residence permits would be another positive signal. We pay tribute to the ILO (International Labour Organisation) for its valuable expertise, support and advice to the Qatari government.”

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on this topic in 2013 and has since then continued to address the situation on a regular basis through political dialogues with the Qatari interlocutors, both within the activities of its delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula and the Subcommittee on Human Rights.