Qatar has been under intense scrutiny as it undergoes preparations of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Amid the preparations, calls for Qatar to update and strengthen its labor conditions and employment laws have been at the forefront. Since the announcement, Qatar has introduced a series of labor reforms since its selection as the 2022 World Cup host, with the event setting in motion a huge construction program that employs thousands of foreign workers.
Some of those reforms have been the removal of the Kafala system for the majority of workers (although some workers were still required to gain approval from their employers to leave the country), formally establishing a minimum wage for migrant workers (750 riyals | $206), and the implementation of a Wage Protection System (WPS), among various other reforms.
In an effort to alleviate additional concerns held by international rights groups that those reforms did not go far enough, the state of Qatar facilitated in opening an office of the United Nations’, International Labor Organization. Earlier this year, Qatar reiterated its commitment to implementing labor reforms following the release of an Amnesty International report. The report, titled “Reality Check,” concludes that the 2022 World Cup host needs to do more to combat labor abuse.
The Government Communications Office (GCO) of Qatar responded in a statement saying that:
“From the outset, we have said that we understood labor reform would be a journey and not an end in itself. We have publicly stated, and restate here, our commitment to labor reform so that Qatar would have a suitable labor system that is fair to employers and employees alike…Far from seeing time as running out, the government of the State of Qatar understands further change is needed and we remain committed to developing these changes as quickly as possible, while ensuring they are effective and appropriate for our labor market conditions.”
The GCO stressed that the State of Qatar will continue to engage and work with foreign governments, both international and multilateral organizations, and NGOs, to ensure that its labor code meets international standards. In response to the criticism and as a testament to its commitment to labor reforms, the state will now proceed to permanently abolish the controversial exit visa system for all foreign workers by the end of 2019.
The head of the agency’s office in Doha, Houtan Homayounpour stated,
“Last year, the exit visa was eliminated for the majority of workers, this year, that will be extended to all remaining categories of workers,”
In September 2018, Qatar approved legislation that would eliminate the “kafala” system that required foreign workers obtain permission from their employers to leave the country. The reform came into effect In October for majority of workers but for a select 5% of a company’s workforce — reportedly those in the most senior positions. Mr. Homayounpour said the system “will officially be eliminated” by the end of 2019 and no worker will be required to obtain permission to leave the country.