DOHA: The International Labour Organisation has claimed that 2022 World Cup host Qatar is closer to the kafala system in a further rights concession to migrant workers.

A statement from the ILO said that Council of Ministers had “unanimously endorsed new legislation allowing workers to change employers freely.” Workers in Qatar had previously required a no-objection certificate from their employer in order to do so.

The respective draft laws will now be referred to the Advisory (Shura) Council, and subsequently for the approval and signature of the Emir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The legislation is expected to come into force by January 2020.

A Ministerial Decree by the Minister of Interior was also signed removing exit permit requirements for all workers, except military personnel. The ILO interpreted this as marking an end to kafala.

In addition, the Council of Ministers endorsed a new law to establish a non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first in the Middle-East.

Guy Ryder, the ILO director general, said: “The ILO welcomes these reforms and recognises the commitment of the State of Qatar to transforming its labour market. These steps will greatly support the rights of migrant workers, while contributing to a more efficient and productive economy.

“I am pleased that the ongoing ILO technical cooperation programme in Qatar is tangibly contributing to the government’s effort to advance social justice and promote decent work in the country.”

An ILO statement continued:

The elimination of the NOC requirement will allow workers to freely change employers following an initial probationary period. Should they wish to change employers during this period, the new employer would need to reimburse recruitment costs to the original employer.

The decision on exit permits means that domestic workers; workers in government and public institutions; workers employed at sea and in agriculture; as well as casual workers are free to leave the country either temporarily or permanently without having to obtain the permission of their employers.

This covers all workers not covered by Law No. 13 of 2018, which removed the requirement to obtain exit permits for most workers covered by the Labour Law.

Meanwhile, the establishment of a non-discriminatory minimum wage that applies to all nationalities and all sectors will guarantee a minimum level of protection for all workers. The minimum-wage level will be set later in the year based on a joint study already completed by the ILO and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (ADLSA).

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of International Trade Union Confederation, said: “Qatar is changing. The new tranche of laws will bring an end to kafala and put in place a modern industrial relations system. We recognise that a new evidence-based minimum wage rate will ensure dignity for migrant workers.

“We  urge the government to announce this as quickly as possible. The partnership between the Qatar Government and the ILO supported by the ITUC is working to change lives.”

These reforms are part of the ILO-ADLSA cooperation agreement signed in 2017, which resulted in the opening of an ILO Project Office in Doha in April 2018.