On 30 August 2020, the Qatar Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) announced a series of labour reforms designed to help protect vulnerable, low-wage workers such as migrant domestic workers and construction workers.
Following consultations with national labour experts, the Ministry introduced Law No. 17 of 2020 on Setting the Minimum Wage for Workers and Domestic Workers. According to the government, the law “sets the minimum wage for all private sector workers, including domestic workers, at QAR 1,000 per month as a basic wage, as well as QAR 500 per month allocated by the employer for accommodation expenses and QAR 300 per month for food, unless the employer already provides adequate food or accommodation for the employee or domestic worker.” According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), “the establishment of the first minimum wage in the Gulf States is a historic milestone” and the new law will increase the wages of 400,000 migrant workers by 33%.
The government also introduced Decree Law No. 18 of 2020 (amending some provisions of Labour Law No. 14 of 2004) and Decree Law No. 19 of 2020 (amending some provisions of 2004 Law No. 21 of 2015). The decrees enable foreign workers to change employers and to exit and enter the country for work more easily. Migrant workers will now be able to change jobs, without first having to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their employer and greater clarity is provided on how to terminate employment. Per the International Labor Organisation (ILO), “[t]his new law, coupled with the removal of exit permit requirements earlier in the year, effectively dismantles the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system and marks the beginning of a new era for the Qatari labour market.” According to the Qatari government, “[t]his will drive greater competition in Qatar’s labour market by allowing employees to change employers and allowing employers to attract the best talent on the local market.”
Employers who violate the law will be subject to higher penalties than before, and in some cases new penalties will apply. Further, the amendments “also include increasing the number of labour dispute resolution committees in an effort to tackle the number of labour disputes, facilitate workers’ access to the rights, and expedite legal proceedings.”
The laws will come into force in six months. As next steps, MADLSA “will be working with employers to update all employment contracts where workers earn less than the amount established by the new Law.” The government will also form a Minimum Wage Committee to oversee and review minimum wage standards.
Background and context
These labour reforms were introduced following years of strong criticism of Qatari labour laws and practices, in particular for migrant workers. The previous ‘kafala’ (or sponsorship) system imposed restrictions on migrant workers by tying their visas to their employers, preventing them from leaving their jobs without their employer’s permission, and requiring them to obtain exit permits from their employers before being able to leave the country. As reported by Human Rights Watch (HRW):
Scrutiny of these issues has increased since Qatar was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup, causing it to quickly ramp up construction on facilities, hotels and infrastructure for the games and drawing in more migrant workers, especially in the construction sector. These workers have been particularly vulnerable to labour abuses under the kafala system.
According to an Amnesty International report on migrant workers’ rights in Qatar, “[t]he abuse and exploitation of low paid migrant workers, sometimes amounting to forced labour and human trafficking, have been extensively documented since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar.”
Reactions to the new labour reforms
Many observers responded positively to the reforms, although some also expressed reservations about the level of enforcement:
“The State of Qatar is committed to creating a modern and dynamic labour market. In line with Qatar Vision 2030, these new laws mark a major milestone in this journey and will benefit workers, employers, and the nation alike.”
H.E. Yousuf Mohamed Al Othman Fakhroo, Minister of Administrative Development, Labour & Social Affairs, Government of Qatar, Statement from the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs on New Minimum Wage and Labour Mobility Law (30 August 2020)
“By introducing these significant changes, Qatar has delivered on a commitment. One that will give workers more freedom and protection, and employers more choice. We are witnessing what can be achieved when governments, workers and employers work together with the ILO to promote decent work for all.”
Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Dismantling the kafala system and introducing a minimum wage mark new era for Qatar labour market (30 August 2020)