This is among the key observations made in the 2015 edition of the “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015,” issued by the US State Department.
The executive summary of the Qatar-specific report states that on October 26 last year, HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani issued reforms to the kafala (sponsorship ) system.
“The reformed law will allow migrant workers who complete the terms of their contracts, which can be up to five years, to change jobs without the permission of their employer. While employees are still required to obtain exit permits from employers before leaving the country, the new law does establish a clear process to circumvent employer objections,” it said.
In November 2015, the government began implementing a law establishing a new Wage Protection System for all residents subject to the labour law in order to address rights abuses in the form of late or unpaid wages to non-citizen workers, it further observed.
The government also inaugurated several new state-funded labour accommodation sites for migrant workers. It arrested and prosecuted individuals for suspected labour law violations and, in October, the authorities announced that they had revoked the licences of 15 manpower recruitment agencies for violating labour laws.
The then Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA), Ministry of Interior and National Human Rights Committee conducted training sessions for migrant labourers to educate them on their rights in the country.
In 2014, the government received 119 complaints of “visa selling,” a practice that contributed to potential forced labour conditions. The government prosecuted 62 of the complaints. Those found guilty of visa selling were imprisoned for up to three years, the report noted.
To combat the problem of late and unpaid wages, the government issued a law in February 2015 mandating electronic payment to all employees subject to the labour law. By November 2, the government required all employers to open bank accounts for their employees and pay wages electronically. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties and possible prison sentences.
The government claimed that it resolved 68% of the 44,126 complaints filed by workers in the first half of the year, according to the report. The then MoLSA resolved 2,807 cases and referred 461 cases to the labour courts for judgement.
The Labour Inspection Department conducted monthly and random inspections of foreign worker camps. When inspectors found the camps to be below minimum standards, the operators received a warning and the authorities ordered them to remedy the violations within a month.
For example, inspectors reportedly checked companies’ payrolls and health and safety practices, returning after one month to ensure that any recommended changes were enacted. If a company did not remedy the violations, the authorities blacklisted the company and, on occasions, referred the matter to the public prosecutor for action.
Fear of penalties such as blacklisting appeared to have had some effect as a deterrent to some labour law violations. Some 1,555 firms were reportedly blacklisted as of August 1.
During the first half of the year, inspectors conducted 34,900 observations of work and labour housing sites.
The report made positive observations on several other issues pertaining to Qatar.