Qatar’s Labour Law (Law No. 14 of 2004) and the implementing ministerial resolutions thereof apply to all individuals working in Qatar. The law provides a body of regulations outlining the legal rights, restrictions and obligations of workers, employers and workers’ committees. Qatar’s labour laws are given particular attention both by the global media and Qatar’s residents alike, given the high number of expatriate workers in the state. The laws apply to around 2m foreigners who make up over 80% of the population of Qatar. The number of foreign workers on major infrastructure projects directly or indirectly related to the 2022 FIFA World Cup is expected to reach 2.5m by 2020.
In the summer of 2015 an independent report commissioned by the government, reviewing the Labour Law and making recommendations for improvements, was presented to the Shura Council (Qatar’s main advisory body). Two significant changes have subsequently been ratified relating to the payment of workers, and the kafala ( sponsorship) system.
Wage Protection System
Law No. 1 of 2015 was enacted on May 2, 2015 amending certain provisions of the Labour Law relating to the process and timeline for the payment of workers. The aim of the amendment is to ensure salaries are received by employees on time. Prior to the issuance of the amended law, Article 66 of the Labour Law provided that employees’ wages were required to be paid either directly within the working day, by transfer to the employee’s bank account, or by payment to an attorney appointed by the employee.
Under the revised law, handing wages to employees or to their attorney is no longer permissible. It is now compulsory to transfer wages to an employee’s bank account. Article 66 of the Labour Law has been amended to provide that wages must be paid in Qatari currency, and must be transferred to the employee’s bank account at one of the financial institutions operating in Qatar, thus enabling employees to have access to their wages on the due date. Furthermore, the revised law provides that employees recruited on annual or monthly wages should be paid at least once a month and wages of all other employees should be paid at least once every two weeks.
The Wage Protection System was introduced in August 2015 by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MLSA) and the Qatar Central Bank to enable monitoring and auditing of all salary payments, enabling late or non-existing payments to be easily identified. Companies were advised that they must register their employees with the Wage Protection System by 2 November 2015.
Employers that fail to adhere to the law will be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding one month, or will be fined no less than QR2000 ($549) and no more than QR6000 ($1650), or both. Failure to comply or submission of incorrect filings could also lead to company visa restrictions, visa quotas being reduced or blocked, and the company being banned from future hiring. To mitigate concerns, some companies have indicated that they plan to have mobile ATMs at labour camps to make it easier for employees to withdraw money.
Kafala System Changes
In Issue No. 29 of the Official Gazette, dated December 13, 2015, it was announced that a new law amending the kafala system would come into force one year after the date of publication. Issued on October 27, 2015, Law No. 21 of 2015 regulating the entry, exit and residency of expatriates will come into force in December 2016. The law will not, however, be applicable to contracts signed before its implementation.
The kafala system currently prevents workers from leaving Qatar without prior approval of their employer. Workers need an exit visa to be approved by their sponsor to be able to leave. The revisions to the law will enable foreign workers wishing to leave Qatar to apply to the Ministry of Interior (MoI) for permission to do so, up to 72 hours in advance. If an employer objects, both sides can approach a grievance committee, which will be set up under the law to look into such complaints.
Under the new law, to leave the country, an employee needs to apply to the MoI through “Metrash 2” (an online portal for exit permits) and inform their employer three days in advance. In case of emergency, the worker can leave immediately after notifying the employer and by approval of the authorities concerned.
The kafala system also relates to an employee’s right to work for another employer. Under the old law, without special permission, a sponsored employee was prohibited from working for another employer. Transfer of sponsorship would be granted in cases where both the original and potential new employers agreed to the change.
However, without a release letter, a person had to leave the country for a minimum of two years before returning to work for another employer. The changes to this aspect of the Labour Law allow foreign workers to switch jobs at the end of a fixed-term contract without having to leave the country for two years.
A foreign worker can, under the amended law, return to Qatar two or three days after exiting. The conditions for return are that the worker should have a new job contract, fulfil all entry visa requirements and not have any court verdict issued against him or her. Approval is needed from the MoI and the MLSA to return.
The changes also mean that employees with indefinite employment contracts may change jobs after five years of being in employment under the existing contract, with the approval of both the MoI and the MLSA. The new law has also increased the penalty for employers who confiscate workers’ passports. Such firms will now be fined QR25,000 ($6860) for each passport, instead of QR10,000 ($2740) prior to the law.
Other Key Provisions Of The Labour Law
The remainder of the Labour Law remains, as yet, unchanged, although it is expected that more widespread amendments will be announced over the coming years.
Some key areas employers in Qatar should be aware of include working conditions, working hours and accommodation and transport rules.
Employers are required to implement measures to ensure the maintenance, cleanliness and ventilation of the workplace by providing appropriate lighting, drinking water, and sanitary drainage. During the summer period, labourers are provided with protection from the high temperatures through limitations on working hours, which are divided into morning and evening shifts, with a break between 11.30am and 3pm. Employers are also required to prepare a first aid kit containing the medicines, tools and equipment specified by the competent medical authority. In any event, workers have the right to medical insurance coverage and paid sick leave.
Regulation Of Working Hours
The maximum number of hours an employee may work without overtime pay is 48 hours per week, except during the holy month of Ramadan when working hours are reduced to 36 per week. Overtime hours are limited in the regular course of business to two hours per day. Workers are entitled to at least one day of rest per week (usually Friday). A penalty of between QR2000 ($549) and QR5000 ($1370) applies if employers breach these rules.
Provision Of Accomodation & Transport
Employers based in areas located a significant distance from cities and which are not readily accessible must provide workers with appropriate means of transport, appropriate housing, or both, safe drinking water, and appropriate nutrition materials or means for obtaining such materials. Accommodation provided by employers must satisfy certain statutory specifications.
A significant body of legislation already exists in Qatar regarding employment of foreign workers. The recent changes to the Labour Law provide additional protection to employees in two key areas. Whilst some commentators have noted that the changes made in 2015 have not been extensive enough, it is fair to say that since publication of the independent report, the government has made significant progress in areas of the law which have been untouched for a long time.
Coupled with Qatar’s commitment to building a “labour city” to house workers in the country, Qatar is clearly undertaking a comprehensive review of its Labour Law procedures and policies.