The Breaking of Shackles of Kafala Workers in Qatar

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This article has been written by Dakshita Sharma Katare from Sushant University, Gurugram and has been curated by Yashasvi Kanodia from NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law.

On Sept. 8, 2020 the Qatar Government introduced significant reforms in the Kafala system prevalent in the country, keeping in view the three-year co-operation program with International Labour Organisation (ILO). This program aimed at improving the lives of the labour class, i.e., domestic workers, migrant workers (including those employed under the Kafala System), etc. in the country. Two major reforms have been brought in to protect the human rights of the Kafala workers. But these reforms can’t be understood, till the time one doesn’t have the knowledge about what exactly the Kafala system is?

The Kafala system, which commenced around the sixth decade of the twentieth century, is a form of sponsorship system common in the middle- east countries of the world. This system started at the time when oil was discovered in these countries and there was a requirement for a temporary and rotating labour class which could be easily brought into the country and sent out according to the economic conditions. In this system, workers are often migrants, whose immigration status is legally bound to an employer for a specified period of time, which means that the worker has no liberty to travel outside a country or enter a country without the permission of the ‘kafeel’, his employer. In addition to this, he does not even have the right to transfer his employment, i.e., to seize working under one employer and start working under another employer without the written assent from his kafeel. All the travel expenses of the worker are sponsored by his employer and he is strictly bound to him throughout his stay in the country. All of this increases the power of the sponsor manifolds and he soon starts exploiting his employee and his liberty.

All these restrictions infringe the right to life and personal liberty, right to free movement and right to freedom of occupation of the Kafala workers along with hindering their human rights. The violation of human rights of these workers has called for the reforms in the laws associated with it. Many international organisations have come forward in the past few years to uplift the rights of the Kafala workers and Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have introduced major reforms with respect to this issue and Jordan, Istanbul, Oman and United Arab Emirates too have put in efforts to improve the conditions of the migrant workers. Qatar is the latest addition to this list.

The two reforms brought in by the Qatari Government are- firstly, the abolition of NOC (No Objection Certificate), which was earlier to be issued by the kafeel (to grant permission) in case the worker wished to change his job; and secondly, the stipulation of 1000 Qatari riyal as the monthly minimum wage of the employee. Under the first amelioration, the workers will now be able to leave the job by giving a one-month prior notice if they have been an employee for less than two years and by a two-month notice, in case they have been working under the same kafeel for more than this time. The second reform provides for the monthly minimum wage as 1000 Qatari riyal (20,230 Indian rupees), in addition to allowances worth 300 QAR (6,069 INR) for food and 500 QAR (10,115 INR) for accommodation, in case the institution/ company doesn’t provide for them. Unlike the previous reform measures, this minimum wage has been institutionalised for everyone, including the domestic workers too.

These measures can be considered a milestone in the field of labour laws as these proposed changes not only aim at providing the human rights to the workers, but also make Qatar the first country in the Gulf region to allow all migrant workers to change jobs before the end of their contracts without first obtaining their employer’s consent and the second country in this region after Kuwait, for setting the minimum wages for the workers.

Yet these reforms are not entirely perfect as they still allow the employers to file a criminal case of absconding on the workers who leave their jobs without seeking permission from the former and the minimum wage fixed by the government is not that progressive, though it does increase the standard for the poorly paid classes.

The effectiveness of these reforms is entirely based on the efficiency of the authorities in carrying out their responsibilities and promptly taking steps for the betterment of the migrant workers. Time to time upgradation of the minimum wages set for the workers and consistent application along with strict administration are the only keys for the success of the goals set by the Qatar Government.

“One can never achieve success by planning alone, one has to strive hard for it.

Only then is fulfilment of goals is possible and only then can one taste success.”

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