Qatar says it is considering a revamp of its controversial sponsorship system for foreign workers in the country and introduce a new system that is in line with international labour standards.
Under the current system, all foreigners must be sponsored by local employers to work and reside in the country.
“The sponsorship system will be replaced with a contract signed by the two parties,” Hussain Al Mulla, the labour ministry undersecretary, told Qatari Arabic-language daily Al Arab on International Labour Day. “The contract will stipulate the rights and duties of each party and will impose specific matters that the foreigner has to respect,” he added.
According to the Qatari official, the country is under tremendous pressure from international organisations over its “sponsorship” system.
“We need to drop this reference and replace it with the contract between the two parties. The word ‘sponsor’ is equated by many with slavery more than anything else,” he said.
However, Al Mulla dispelled the impression that the cancellation of a contract would allow foreigners to switch jobs automatically.
“A foreigner can resign to take up another, maybe more lucrative job. However, the resignation annuls the contract and the foreigner will have to go home and the new employer will draw up a new contract with him that will allow him to return to Qatar,” he explained.
Without giving a specific date for the implementation of the new system, the labour undersecretary said Qatar was exploring the systems of its neighbours despite the differences. He also lamented the lack of common regulations on domestic help.
“We have yet to receive feedback from the Bahrainis, Kuwaitis and Saudis on their sponsorship experiences. However, we have now prohibited all companies from keeping the passports of their employees. This is a step forward towards the contract system and an affirmation of the intention to scrap the sponsorship system,” the official told the daily.
Al Mulla also announced that a union committee would be established to defend the interests of Qatari and foreign employees.
“We wanted to set up the labour committee to help employees and lift off the pressure we and other Gulf countries have been under from several organisations. We are often asked about the non-existence of labour unions to defend labourers in Qatar. We had a labour committee during the days of oil companies. However, the situation in the Gulf is somewhat different because there are few Qataris who are labourers. However, the labour committee can be joined by employees as well,” he said.
The labour ministry official disclosed that the Qatari prime minister has endorsed the moves to carry out a study to set up the labour committee.
“We carried out the study with assistance from the Arab Labour Organisation, the International Labour Organisation and some Gulf trade unions. They all came here and studied the Qatari case carefully. However, before we benefited from their experience, we worked on a draft for the committee which stipulated that it be made up of Qatari members. Foreigners have the right to vote, but they cannot be members of the board. The committee will not be under the custody of the labour union and will have the right to move to companies to check the working conditions. It can also receive complaints from labourers and defend their rights within Qatar,” Al Mulla said.
The non-governmental committee will have an independent building with a budget funded by its members, he said.
Al Mulla claimed that the committee could be modelled along the lines of Maghreb countries at a later stage.
“It can include workers, but also employees and professionals. The committee will defend the rights of workers and even employees in administrations,” he said.