Qatar: Migrant Welfare Protection
Written by Emma Higham and Yasser Shabbir
The decision by FIFA's World Cup Organising Committee to award Qatar the World Cup in 2022 continues to attract scrutiny and enquiry from both the world's media and a host of international governmental and not for profit organisations amid concerns regarding the safety, security and welfare of Qatar's migrant workforce who are helping to build the civic infrastructure to help Qatar deliver a memorable World Cup. One area of international concern is whether there is a robust framework to protect Qatar's migrant workforce. As well as ensuring that sufficient safeguards have been implemented, the Qatari authorities are being asked to demonstrate that these safeguards are being monitored and enforced consistently amongst all stakeholders and interested parties. This article aims to provide a general overview of the framework which has been established to protect Qatar's migrant workforce and the various measures which both government and quasi-government bodies have developed in this regard.
Qatar National Vision 2030 ("QNV 2030")
QNV 2030 defines the long-term outcomes for the country as a whole. It provides a framework within which national strategies and implementation plans can be developed.
QNV 2030 is premised on four key pillars. The first pillar relates to Human Development with a focus on the targeted participation of expatriate labour. A key focus for Human Development is the recruitment of the right mix of expatriate labour, protecting their rights, securing their safety and the retention of employees who are outstanding.
In the context of QNV 2030, Qatar Foundation ("QF") adopted its comprehensive Migrant Workers' Charter ("MWC") in 2012 and, more recently the Qatari 2022 Supreme Committee, now renamed the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, issued a workers’ charter aimed at creating a safe working environment for the thousands of expatriate workers who are employed on the various World Cup and other projects which are and will be undertaken by QF and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
Of particular interest, the MWC commits all Contractors and Sub-Contractors to deliver the requirements set out in the MWC, the Mandatory Welfare Standards ("MWS") and all relevant Qatar laws. In addition to containing a number of fundamental guiding principles which amongst other things are designed to ensure that Contractors/Sub-Contractors exert the necessary standard of care to ensure that the dignity of employees is protected and preserved throughout their recruitment, placement, sojourn and repatriation; and, to ensure that they do not allow or tolerate any forced labour, human trafficking practices or other violations of human and labour rights, the MWS (which embodies the MWC) lists the laws and regulations, in addition to the Immigration and Labour Laws, i.e. the laws most commonly associated with employees in Qatar, in an Annex.
Laws and Regulations
Adherence to Qatar laws and regulations is key, not only for QF's Contractors and Sub-Contractors, but also for all employers employing expatriates in Qatar in accordance with the Qatar Labour Law, i.e. not one of the exempt categories of expatriate employees, including Government employees or employees working in the oil and gas sector. It is interesting to note however that when asked which laws and regulations govern the employment of expatriate employees in Qatar, many employers, whilst they are aware of the Immigration and Labour Laws, are not sufficiently of the existence of the various Ministerial Resolutions and Decisions which have been issued in order to give effect to the often general provisions of these laws and with which they need to comply. This article now considers some of these resolutions and decisions in more detail.
Laws and Regulations (as amended)
Ministerial Decision No.(8) of 2005 regulates the recruitment of expatriate employees from outside Qatar and specifically states that employees may not be charged for recruitment expenses, fees or other costs. In addition, an employee must be repatriated at the recruiter's cost if he is unfit or unable to work amongst other things.
Ministerial Resolution No.(6) of 2005 regulates shift work whilst Ministerial Decision No.(10) and No.(11) of 2005 restricts the activities for which work can be undertaken without rest and the maximum number of working hours, respectively.
Ministerial Resolution No.(12) of 2005 sets out the areas which at that time were designated "remote" and where appropriate means of transport, accommodation, potable water, food or the means to obtain food and medical provisions must be made available to employees.
Ministerial Decision No.(17) of 2005 sets out in detail the requirements for employees accommodation, including the area to which each employee should have access, bedding allocation, the number of employees who may share a bathroom, utilities and rubbish disposal.
In addition to existing laws and regulations, where matters of concern are highlighted new laws and regulations are issued to develop the legal framework in this regard. Two such recent examples include:
The Labour Law: In November 2015, the Qatari government via an amendment to Article 66 of the Labour Law introduced the mandatory wages protection system ("WPS") designed to ensure the timely and efficient payment of salaries to all workers in Qatar. Under WPS, all employers are obliged to transfer electronically from their Qatari bank accounts the salaries of their workers in local currency into the workers' personal back accounts in Qatar. Breach of WPS carries both civil and criminal penalties.
The Immigration Law: In December 2016, the Qatari government will introduce the new Immigration Law which it is expected will have a major impact on the operation of the sponsorship system in Qatar; and, in effect make it easier for workers to leave Qatar and transfer their sponsorship within Qatar.
The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs is the main Government agency seeking to enforce the provisions of the Qatar laws and regulations pertaining to employment. In addition, many Government and quasi-Government entities now require undertakings with respect to compliance within the various contracting and sub-contracting tiers within tender submissions and transparency with respect to such compliance during the period for which work is being undertaken; internal auditors are being recruited in order to assist in monitoring such compliance.
Note: Qatari Laws (saved for those issued by the Qatar Financial Centre ("QFC") to regulate its internal business) are issued in Arabic and there are no official translations. Therefore, for the purpose of drafting this article, we have used our own translations and interpreted the same in the context of Qatari laws, regulations and current practice.
If you would like further information, please do not hesitate to contact either Emma Higham (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or Yasser Shabbir (email@example.com)