Qatar’s Supposed Sponsorship
Recent legislation aims to reform sponsorship requirements for foreign workers who live and work in Qatar. Ninety percent of individuals living in Qatar are foreign, often drawn to the area for the abundance of employment opportunities. Historically, Qatar used the Kafala system, which is used to regulate migrant workers in multiple Middle Eastern countries.
The Kafala system allows workers to enter the country with the support of a sponsor, usually the intended employer. The relationship between sponsor/employers and workers has been a longstanding point of contention in the region, due to the unequal power dynamic of the relationship. Employers (acting as sponsors) have been known to prevent their workers from accepting another employment position. Kafala has been liked to a form of “modern slavery”. Today, Qatar no longer officially follows Kafala, although many aspects – and criticism – of the system still remain and are seen in legislation.
Qatar’s recent labor law reforms will be implemented starting in 2017, which many feel is not soon enough. However, the new regulations still require workers to obtain permission from their sponsors to leave the country or accept a new employment opportunity within five years. Qataris have taken to Twitter to voice their dissatisfaction. One user tweeted, “So. Nothing REALLY changes”. Others praise the Qatari government for the move away from Kafala and its restrictive rules. Although many Kafala regulations are still in place, a new grievance committee allows expats to petition against their sponsors, giving foreign workers a voice. Businessman Al Sayed Mansour Al Mansour supports the new labor laws, as he believes they will provide stability to both workers and employers . He says that the five-year employment threshold is fair because employers spend their own time and money recruiting and training new hires.
Has Qatar done enough to reform labor laws? Or is it too little, too late?