* PM issues Decision No. 95 of 2019 

* ILO welcomes move

Qatar has scrapped exit permits for different categories of expatriates including those who are not covered by the country's Labour Law like domestic workers, as part of its efforts to ensure the rights of all foreign workers.

To this effect, HE the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani issued on Thursday Decision No. 95 of 2019 "regarding controls and procedures for the exit of some categories of expatriates who are not subject to the Labour Law in Qatar", the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) said.

The decision is another important step taken by the Qatari government to establish a modern system that strengthens labour laws in the country and ensures the protection of the rights of all expatriate workers, the report states.

According to the new decision, expatriates in the following categories have the freedom to temporarily or permanently leave the country during the period of validity of their employment contract: staff in ministries and other government agencies, employees in public bodies and institutions, employees in the oil and gas sector and affiliated companies, employees working on marine vessels; workers engaged in agriculture and grazing; and workers in private offices.

This decision will support Qatari companies by enhancing their global competitiveness and ensuring their conformity with international labour regulations and best practices, the QNA report stressed.

The decision also stipulates that the employer has the right to submit a reasoned request to the Ministry of Interior (MoI) with the names of those who need prior approval before they leave the country because of the nature of their work. Such requests should not exceed 5% of the total number of their employees.

According to the new decision, domestic workers subject to Law No. 15 of 2017 also have the right to temporary or permanently exit the country during the validity of their work contract. However, all domestic workers must inform their employers at least 72 hours before they want to leave, "in order to ensure the right of both employers and employees".

"The new decision came in accordance with the provisions of the second paragraph of Article 7 of Law No. 21 of 2015 regulating the entry and exit of expatriates and their residency," said Major General Mohamed Ahmed al-Ateeq, director-general of the Passports Directorate at the MoI, adding that implementation of these measures is under way.

Commenting on the abolition of exit permits, Mohamed Hassan al-Obaidli, assistant undersecretary for Labour Affairs at the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, said: "The Government of Qatar has worked closely with local and international partners and implemented vast reforms to strengthen labour laws and increase protection for expatriate workers, which has made Qatar a leader in the region. This decision is a declaration of our firm commitment to developing a modern system that suits the needs of both employers and expatriate workers."

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Project Office for Qatar welcomed the move, tweeting: "Great news for domestic workers and staff in govt & public institutions, oil & gas, at sea & in agriculture. Another key step in labour reform agenda."

Houtan Homayounpour, head of the ILO office in Qatar, also lauded the move through a tweet, saying: "Congratulations to the State of Qatar and its people on this major milestone in the Labour reform agenda!"

In October 2018, a new law had come into effect allowing expatriate workers covered under the Labour Law to leave the country without an exit permit.

His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani had earlier issued Law No. 13 of 2018, amending certain provisions of Law No. 21 of 2015 regulating the entry, exit and residency of expatriates.

Under the amendment, Article 7 of Law No. 21 of 2015 was replaced with a provision which stipulated that an expatriate worker covered under Labour Law No. 14 for 2004 had the right to temporarily exit the country, or for good, at any time throughout the duration of his/her employment contract without an exit permit.

Then, in October 2019, Qatar's Cabinet approved a number of draft laws to give workers of all categories more rights and protection. One of the draft laws pertained to the abolition of exit permits for those not covered by the Labour Law, including domestic workers.

Who will benefit?

* Domestic workers

* Employees in ministries and other government agencies, public bodies and institutions

* Employees in the oil and gas sector and affiliated companies

* Employees working in marine vessels

* Workers engaged in agriculture and grazing

* Workers in private offices

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