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

photo: Karim JAAFAR / AFP

Qatar’s programme of reform has put in place labour laws and a modern industrial relations system ahead of the 2022 World Cup, which will bring over a million football fans to the country, and thousands of additional workers.

The bi-annual joint meeting between the ITUC and Global Union Federations, the International Labour Organisation and Qatar’s Ministry of Labour agreed improvements on wages, compliance, worker representation as well as workers’ protections during the FIFA World Cup.

“Qatar’s laws have changed; workers are no longer enslaved by the kafala system. We continue to make progress on implementation. Ahead of the World Cup unions have negotiated a set of improvements to support existing labour laws and agreed an agenda for dialogue in 2023,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation.

Improvements agreed with international unions include:

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.

Discussions are positive about worker representatives and employer representatives joining the minimum wage council which regularly review and sets the minimum wage. This tripartite process is modelled on international standards.

Compliance with labour laws: The Ministry of Labour will continue to make use of the Worker Welfare Fund for non-payment of wages and compensation. Increased action is being taken against employers who falsely claim a worker has absconded. Employers who repeatedly fail to pay wages have been jailed, and face exclusion from government contracts. A positive outcome of the mobility laws being changed is that 370,000 workers have changed jobs in just two years.

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

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, health and safety checks and implement a new directive on working time to protect workers from unscrupulous employers.

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 of laws to protect workers.

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

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 and building the capacity through joint committees for broader sectoral dialogue in transport, construction and hospitality and other industrial sectors. Dispute settlement conditions will be expanded, and additional training provided.

“Progress on the implementation of Qatar’s labour laws, introduced less than two years ago, is being made.

“Increasing action against employers including economic sanctions such as freezing assets, jail and blacklisting companies from government contracts shows that the Government of Qatar is serious about implementing its labour laws. Tough action on employers will increase compliance and protect workers’ rights. This is essential to ensure that the full impacts of the reform reach all workers.

“This week in Doha, the foundations were laid for the consideration of ILO Conventions on health 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 modern industrial relations system”, said Sharan Burrow.