DOHA: A review of the sponsorship system is possible as the award of the 2022 FIFA World Cup has put Qatar in the international spotlight, says the Oxford Business Group in its latest report on Qatar.
Greater international exposure has created pressure (on Qatar) to abide by international norms and practices. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of labour regulations, says ‘The Report — Qatar 2012’.
The organisers have not shied from the issue of labour conditions. In January last year, the secretary-general of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, Hassan Al Thawadi, said at a news conference here that major sporting events shed a spotlight on conditions in the host countries.
“There are labour issues here, but Qatar is committed to reform. We will require contractors to impose a clause to ensure international labour standards are met. Sport, particularly football, is a very powerful force. We can use it to benefit the region,” Thawadi said. Qatar already has reasonably stringent regulations for labour, but implementation and monitoring has often been a problem, says The Report. According to a May 2011 report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on labour conditions in Qatar and the UAE, “Even when laws are changed to benefit the workers, there are often shortfalls in their implementation, and migrants are frequently unaware of their rights”. The government is attempting to address this perception and improve the condition of workers, but contractors are divided over the impact the 2022 event and the state’s commitment to labour rights will have on the ground. The Report quotes a key official from Aljaber & Partners, Ammar Ammar, as saying that he didn’t see labour or sponsorship reform happening until 2018, and by then the bulk of the work for the 2022 event will have been completed. However, others believe that government pressure and the exposure that the bid win has brought have already had an impact. According to Atul Bharadwaj, senior project manager at Al Balagh Trading and Contracting: “Labour regulation is becoming strict. We know there will be new visa rules in terms of sponsorship, and if you go to the Industrial Area, we have good quality labour accommodation now”.
The most contentious issue the government is seeking to address is the sponsorship or ‘kafala’ system, which mandates that foreign workers must have a sponsor in order to be employed in Qatar.
In the above context, The Report cites Labour Ministry Undersecretary H E Hussain Yusuf Al Mulla as telling a local Arabic daily that the sponsorship system will be replaced with a contract signed by the two parties (the worker and his employer). “The contract will stipulate the rights and duties of each party and will impose specific matters that the foreigner has to respect,” Al Mulla said.