Amidst rising job losses and the coronavirus caused deflationary pressures across the globe, Middle East Gulf state Qatar has scrapped a rule requiring employers' consent for expatriate workers to change jobs and also proposed to implement a basic monthly minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($274).
Sunday's announcement by the ministry of administrative development, labour and social affairs (MADLSA) follows criticism of the country’s labour laws and human rights records by rights activists and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Qatar’s labour laws and human rights record have been come under the scanner, especially since it became the host country for the 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament.
Under Qatar's `kafala’ (Arabic for sponsorship) system, migrant workers needed to obtain permission of their employer - a no-objection certificate (NOC) - before changing jobs, and even leaving the country.
Energy-rich Qatar enjoys one of the world's highest per-capita incomes due to its natural gas reserves and has more than a million migrant workers. The Gulf nation had partially ended the “kafala” system in 2018.
The ministry said it is "working with employers to update all employment contracts where workers earn less than the minimum wage prescribed by the new law, which will come into force after 6 months of its publication in the official gazette".
The new law allows migrant workers to change jobs before the end of their contract subject to a notice period.
"Either party must provide one month written notice in the first two years of the contract or two months' notice beyond the second year of the contract," the MADLSA said in a statement.
The new laws also aim at addressing the problems faced by expatriate workers like non-payment of salary, payment delays and NOC restrictions. which have made life miserable for many migrant workers, especially in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) had taken up the issue and criticized the country’s half-hearted efforts to protect labour rights. The country's "efforts to protect migrant workers' right to accurate and timely wages have largely proven unsuccessful," the rights body said.
"As part of our efforts to boost the effectiveness of the Wage Protection System, the new amendments ... prescribe stricter penalties for employers who fail to pay their workers’ wages and introduce penalties for employers who fail to provide adequate accommodation for their workers." Addressing these issues, the MADLSA statement added:
Besides the minimum wage, the new laws also provide for 500 riyals ($137) for accommodation and 300 riyals ($82.2) for food if those expenses are not provided as part of the contract.
The new laws have been welcomed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) which described the announcement as a "huge milestone in labour reform agenda for the state of Qatar".