December 13 – Qatari authorities say they have finally abolished the antiquated ‘kafala’ system tying foreign workers to their employers and which has caused so much conflict amid preparations for the 2022 World Cup.
The Qatari government said a new law coming into effect will replace the controversial system that forces foreign workers to seek their employer’s consent before being allowed to change jobs or leave the country.
But human rights groups say the change will do little to lessen the exploitation faced by migrant workers, scores of whom have lost their lives in the construction industry.
Qatar is spending billions of dollars on infrastructure related to hosting the World Cup and has imported hundreds of thousands of workers from countries such as India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
An Amnesty International report said despite the reforms, such workers will continue to need their employer’s permission to change jobs and require exit permits to leave the Gulf state.
“This new law may get rid of the word ‘sponsorship’ but it leaves the same basic system intact,” James Lynch, deputy director for global issues at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
“FIFA, its sponsors and foreign governments seeking business ties with Qatar cannot and must not use this reform to claim that the problem of migrant labour abuse has been solved.”
According to Amnesty, employers can withhold workers’ passports under a new loophole but a counter-statement from the Gulf state rejected the Amnesty version of events and said it was continuing adapt its laws to “ensure our approach to reform is fit for purpose”.
“We remain committed to the development of a labour system that is fair to both employers and employees alike,” the statement said.
“These new legislative changes, combined with ongoing enforcement and a commitment to systemic reform, not just in Qatar but also in countries of origin, will ensure workers’ rights are respected across the entire labour pathway.”
Earlier a government spokesman insisted the reforms would make it easier for migrant workers to change jobs and leave the country, bringing “tangible benefits”.
“We urge the international community not to draw any definitive conclusions until there has been time to see the new law in action.”
“The new law is the latest step towards improving and protecting the rights of every expatriate worker in Qatar,” Labour Minister Issa al-Nuami said in a statement.
Meanwhile a group of Bangladeshi labour activists say they have joined a lawsuit in Switzerland against FIFA for allegedly failing to use its influence to ensure those working on World Cup facilities in Qatar are treated fairly.
The suit, filed in FIFA’s home city of Zurich with the backing of the Netherlands’ largest labour union, calls on FIFA to force Qatar to adopt “minimum labour standards” for migrant workers preparing for the tournament.
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org