October 17 – In a key move that provides a significant political and psychological boost for Qatar’s World Cup organisers, the Gulf state has pledged to fully eliminate the antiquated and controversial kafala sponsorship system that ties foreign workers to their employer.
The International Labour Organisation, a United Nations agency, says Qatari authorities have agreed to end kafala in January and also introduce “a non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first in the Middle East”.
Kafala prevents migrant workers from moving jobs or leaving the country without the express permission of their employers and has applied to thousands of migrant workers who have been working on the construction of new stadiums ahead of the World Cup.
In recent weeks human rights groups such as Amnesty International have maintained the pressure on Qatar to ensure that pledges to reform the system are matched by reality.
Critics of Qatar have long included International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) general secretary Sharan Burrow but even Burrow has welcomed the announcement, saying “Qatar is changing.”
“The new tranche of laws will bring an end to the kafala system of modern slavery,” Burrow said.
“We recognise that an evidence-based minimum wage, the first of its kind in the Middle East, will be a major improvement for workers, and will guarantee a minimum level of protection. We urge the government to announce the new rate as quickly as possible.”
Amnesty says it will be “closely scrutinising the details of this announcement and pushing for any positive measures to be quickly and fully implemented”.
Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty’s deputy director of global issues, added: “Far too often workers have continued to face exploitation and abuse despite reforms.”
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