Qatar’s Labour Laws set foundation for a World Cup with Workers’ Rights

Qatar’s programme of reform has put in place labour laws that provide crucial aspects of a modern industrial relations system ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The programme of labour law reform is overseen by a unique piece of governance — the bi-annual meeting of the Qatar Ministry of Labour, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) office in Qatar, the International Trade Union Confederation and Global Union Federations. At the most recent meeting we discussed the challenges of implementation and agreed improvements on wages, compliance, and worker representation as well as additional workers’ protections during the FIFA World Cup.

It is clear that Qatar’s laws have changed. The kafala system of modern slavery is dead in law. And despite many good examples of implementation, there are still employers who consider themselves to be above the law and violate workers’ rights. The positive news is that systematic dispute settling mechanisms are in place from what we call labour courts to a complaints system that the Ministry of Labour manages as well as access for workers to the ILO. Union community liaison officers are on the ground to promote application of the laws and to support workers who wish to submit complaints. And we plan to increase the number of liaison officers available to support migrant workers.

The Government is toughening sanctions on employers who repeatedly fail to pay wages, with the risk of jail and exclusion from government contracts. The Ministry of Labour will continue to make use of the Worker Welfare Fund for non-payment of wages and compensation and the development of a life insurance requirement in employment contracts is underway. Increased action will also be taken against employers who falsely claim a worker has absconded in order to deny their right to change jobs.

And the Government has committed to increasing inspections for domestic workers, providing support for workers who want to change jobs and putting in place additional training on rights.

A positive outcome of the employment mobility laws being changed is that more than 400,000 workers have changed jobs in just two years.

Ahead of the FIFA World Cup unions have negotiated a set of improvements to support existing labour laws and agreed an agenda for dialogue in 2023.

Worker protections during the World Cup: With thousands of additional workers due in Qatar in the coming weeks, short term contracts will only be available to FIFA World Cup institutions, which is the standard for major sporting events. Corporations trying to exploit this will be penalised. During the World Cup the Ministry of Labour will increase the number of labour inspections and health and safety checks and implement a new directive on working time to protect workers from unscrupulous employers.

Wages: Cost of living evidence is being collected for a review of the minimum wage in the coming months. Qatar was the first country of the Gulf States to introduce a non-discriminatory minimum wage for all workers including domestic workers which sets a much higher standard than many other countries for those women most at risk of exploitation.

Positive discussions about worker representatives and employer representatives joining the minimum wage council which regularly reviews and sets the minimum wage have begun. This tripartite process will be modelled on international best practice.

Worker representation: Joint workplace committees where workers elect their own representatives to negotiate with management are in place. Plans are now under active consideration for joint committees to be mandatory.

Occupational Health and Safety: While even a single death is too many, ILO research shows substantial progress on reducing work-related deaths and injuries. The most comprehensive data on occupational injuries compiled in Qatar reveal that 50 workers lost their lives in 2020 and 506 were severely injured. The Ministry of Labour is committed to a new dedicated Department for Health and Safety which increased focus on prevention and compliance with laws to protect workers.

2023 Agenda: An agenda for dialogue in 2023 was agreed between unions, the Ministry of Labour and the ILO, including considerations on health and safety, forced labour and worker representation as well as building the capacity through joint committees for broader sectoral dialogue in transport, construction, hospitality and other industrial sectors. Dispute settlement conditions will be expanded, and additional training provided.

The foundations have also been laid for consideration of ILO Conventions on health and safety, forced labour and worker representation. The possibility of union and employer representatives on the minimum wage council and building the capacity of joint committees for broader sectoral dialogue moves forward an agenda in 2023 that will continue to see international unions, the ILO and Qatar’s Ministry of Labour engage in a dialogue that strengthens the foundations of Qatar’s industrial relations system.

During the World Cup, human rights volunteers will be on the ground to hear any concerns and help with referring any concerns to the Ministry or the ILO for resolution.

The ITUC, with the support of many other organisations, fought hard to see change in Qatar. The laws have changed, workers have rights and other Gulf countries should follow.

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General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. Representing the world's working people.

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Sharan Burrow

General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. Representing the world's working people.