Qatar abolishes dreaded ‘kafala’ labour system
Qatar on Monday formally announced the end of its controversial "kafala" system, arguably the biggest ever labour reform undertaken by the 2022 football World Cup host nation.
In a long-expected announcement, Labour Minister Issa bin Saad al-Jafali al-Nuaimi said the "kafala" rules would be abolished from tomorrow, December 13.
He said a contract-based system to govern the gas-rich Gulf emirate's 2.1 million foreign workers would take its place. Under "kafala", all foreign workers working in Qatar currently require a local sponsor, in the form of an individual or company, and need their permission to switch jobs or leave the country.
The system was compared to modern-day slavery, and left vulnerable workers with little protection and open to abuse, critics said.
"The new law is the latest step towards improving and protecting the rights of every expatriate worker in Qatar," Nuaimi said.
"It replaces the kafala system with a modernised, contract-based system that safeguards workers' rights and increases job flexibility."
Freedom of movement is guaranteed under the new rules, said Qatari officials, including giving workers the right to change jobs or leave the country, as well as offering them greater contract protection. The changes, known formally as Law No. 21 of 2015, were first announced by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani last year.
Ever since Qatar was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup, its labour laws have been internationally condemned and "kafala" has been at the heart of that criticism.
Critics are unlikely to be appeased by the latest reform, but Nuaimi urged them to give the new rules time to take effect. "We welcome any comment or constructive criticism, and will continue to do so in the future," he said. "However, we urge the international community not to draw any definitive conclusions until there has been time to see the new law in action."