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Qatar moves to reform labor laws, but critics demand more

By Schams Elwazer, CNN
updated 10:24 AM EDT, Thu May 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Qatar will amend its labor laws to improve the living standards for migrant workers
  • It followed months of criticism by rights groups and media reports
  • The changes have been met with a lukewarm response from critics

Abu Dhabi (CNN) -- The tiny Gulf state of Qatar will amend its labor laws in an effort to improve the living standards of migrant workers, its Interior and Labor ministries said Wednesday.

The changes are based on recommendations published in a report by international law firm DLA Piper which Qatar commissioned last year to review workers' conditions.

It followed months of criticism by rights groups and media reports alleging abuse and exploitation of laborers as the country prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.

Among the notable amendments: expatriate workers no longer need their employer's permission to leave the country or to change jobs.

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DLA Piper's report said the old restrictions could "result in a situation where migrant workers are 'trapped' in Qatar, with an abusive employer, and without means of exit or the ability to legally transfer to another employer for months."

Regulations over "exit stamps," which are needed to leave the country, are also being eased under the proposed changes.

"It is alleged that employers / sponsors are using this [Exit Stamp] authority to prevent migrant workers from leaving Qatar thus giving rise to circumstances of apparent forced labor," DLA Piper's report said of the requirement for employers to issue an Exit Stamp.

The amendments need to be approved by the consultative body known as the Shura Council, then the government, before they become law. No time frame has been given.

The changes have been met with a lukewarm response from Qatar's critics.

Amnesty International said it was a "missed opportunity" by Qatar.

"Proposed reforms announced by the Government of Qatar fall far short of the fundamental changes needed to address systemic abuses against migrant workers in the construction, domestic and other sectors," it said in a statement.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) called the proposals "cosmetic" and added that "modern slavery will still exist in Qatar."

"There is no freedom of association, no minimum wage, and no effective labour compliance system," a statement said.

Amnesty's researcher James Lynch added: "While some of the measures announced today are positive and if implemented would improve conditions for workers, they do not go nearly far enough."

Ali Al-Khulaifi, Director of Planning and Quality Department at the Ministry of Labor, said that minimum wage would continue to be determined by the individual agreements between Qatar and home countries of migrant workers.

When asked about trade unions he said they were still studying the options.

READ: Qatar World Cup 2022: FIFA reformer calls for vote rerun

READ: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain withdraw envoys from Qatar

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