ILO discusses labour reforms in Qatar at European Parliament hearing

Addressing the European Parliament, the ILO stressed that tangible progress has been achieved in Qatar in the past 4,5 years, including the adoption of new labour laws and policies, and reflected on the challenges that remain regarding the implementation of these reforms.

News | 14 November 2022
Max Tuñón, the Head of the ILO Project Office in Doha, participated in a hearing on working conditions for migrant workers in Qatar ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2022, organized by the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights. The Minister of Labour of Qatar and the Director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch also addressed the hearing, which was chaired by Belgian MEP Marie Arena.

The ILO has been working in Qatar since 2018, and tangible progress has been made over the past 4,5 years. There have been major developments in terms of new laws; the establishment of new institutions or the enhancement of existing ones to ensure a more effective implementation of these laws; and increased partnerships and engagement with different stakeholders, including with international trade unions.

“The labour reforms have had a concrete impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers,” said Mr Tuñón. In the two years since the most problematic elements of the Kafala, or sponsorship, system were dismantled, over 350,000 applications to change jobs were approved. Since the adoption of a non-discriminatory minimum wage in 2021, a total of 13 per cent of the workforce – 280,000 people – saw their wages increase.

As part of the labour reforms agenda, Qatar has also adopted very progressive legislation which further protects workers from heat stress. Since the summer of 2021, all outdoor work is prohibited between 10am and 3:30pm from 1 June to 15 September. In addition, a threshold was established at which all outdoor work must stop. Outdoor workers must also undergo an annual health screening. Since the new legislation was introduced, there has been a steep decline in the number of workers with heat-related disorders in hospitals.

This progress has been achieved with close engagement of the international community. Not only with the ILO and international trade unions, but also through dialogue with international NGOs, particularly with civil society organizations from Asia. The Qatari authorities have also exchanged expertise with several EU Member States, including Sweden and France, and partnerships with the Netherlands and Belgium are in the pipeline.

Mr Tuñón recognized that there are still gaps in the implementation of the labour reforms. “This is not surprising given the magnitude of the reforms. It takes time to build institutions, and to change mindsets and business practices that are deeply entrenched,” he said.

He highlighted three main remaining priorities. There are still workers who struggle to change jobs, because of a lack of awareness of the process to follow. “In some cases, workers suffer retaliation from their employers when they try to change jobs. We know that the government is working on this,” he said.

Whilst workers now have a much-improved access to justice, there is a need to ensure that in case workers are not paid their due wages and benefits, the mechanisms to lodge complaints and recover wages are timely and fair. A third priority is to ensure that domestic workers fully benefit from the labour reforms.

“The World Cup is not the finishing line and we will continue to work with the government, workers and employers to further advance the reforms in the coming years, and further support the alignment of Qatar’s law and practice with international labour standards. We look forward to continuing engaging with the European Union,” concluded Mr Tuñón.