In my article last week, I said that what the representative of the Ministry of Interior announced regarding sponsorship and exit permit rules (see The Peninsula, June 12, 2014) was what the ministry is already doing, so there was nothing new. In other words, there was nothing wrong with the statements of the ministry’s representative, and enforcing the law is the ministry’s duty and it is aware of the issues people are concerned about.
In the same article, I objected to two things, including allowing expatriate workers deported from the country to return whenever they get a new job, instead of coming back after a minimum of two years, as at present. The second point I strongly opposed was the proposal to create an elected labour committee to receive expatriate worker’s complaints and advocate their rights.
In this article, I will focus on the new work contract proposed by the representative of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
Legality of amending work contracts
The head of the Work Relations Department at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs says that the current model work contract sufficiently regulates the relationship between employers and employees, in line with international standards. He added that the contract also contained deterrent punitive measures, obligations that must be honoured by employers and duties that must be carried out by employees.
But, the head of the department contradicted himself by saying that the proposed amendments to the work contract are aimed at ensuring the rights of expatriate workers.
This is in response to allegations by international organisations that say that expatriate workers in Qatar are working in poor and unfair conditions. Laws are amended when there are loopholes or problems with these laws. This means that amending the model work contract is illegal because, in the light of the statements of the head of the department, the contract sufficiently regulates employer-employee relations.
Wage protection scheme
This is a very important issue in the light of directions from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that we must pay workers as soon as they finish their work and before their sweat dries out. This also means that the main parties — the government, contracts and subcontractors — must pay for finished work.
The government and its companies must pay for finished work within 15 and not 60 days, as is the current practice, given the fact that the payment of salaries is part of a chain of processes. When there is a disruption in this chain, problems occur in salary payment. This is why employers, particularly new and small companies, should not be blamed for failing to pay their workers salaries on time. They should not be blamed for mistakes made by the government and others.
Indefinite work contracts
I still cannot understand why this issue was mentioned during the press conference. The current work contract under Law No. 14/2004 mentions this issue in articles 40, 43 and 49. My belief is that this issue was mentioned in the press conference to pave the way for the forthcoming point.
Amending work contract to ease change of jobs
Herein lies the main problem. The majority of workers who come to Qatar do not have the required experience when they come to the country. This makes it necessary for employers to do some paperwork to get permission from the permanent committee to recruit enough number of workers for their project. The employers then make efforts to get workers of specific nationalities, and this takes months. It also costs these employers a lot of money. Employers also spend a lot of money training and preparing workers for the job. Some other agencies, including government companies, later take the workers from their original employer by paying them higher salaries.
More dangerous still, workers get to know important details about the job they were doing for the employer. This means that these workers can easily pass on these details to competitors when they change jobs. This can cause serious losses to the original employer.
This problem can be solved by adding the condition in the work contract that workers can do the same work with a new employer only two years after they quit their old job, or if their employer allows it. The condition must also include compensation for the old employer equivalent to the losses he/she will suffer if the worker reveals confidential business information to rivals.
Adding special articles to work contract
The representative of the Ministry of Labour said employers have the right to add special terms to work contracts. He added, however, that additional terms in the contract must be in line with the law. This means that employers will not be able to add any special terms to work contracts. They will not be able to make any binding special contracts, either.
Threatening citizens’ interests
The so-called reforms will surely threaten the interests of citizens. They will not offer any guarantees to employers. They can even bring employers problems and hardships. Everything that has been said about the new contracts will bring nothing but harm to citizens. The same contract will bring nothing but benefit to foreign workers.
The Minister of Finance has said previously that he seeks to apply the policy of outsourcing. This policy depends on a number of employees. Nevertheless, if any of these employees or workers move to another job, they would be violating the work contract.
Sovereignty and foreign supervision
The representative of the Ministry of Labor and social affairs said the ministry would sign a technical cooperation agreement with the International Labor Organisation this year with the aim of increasing technical support for implementation of the labour law.
I consider it a strange thing for the representative of the ministry to say that a foreign agency would supervise our state and bring its citizens to account when it comes to implementation of a law approved by the Emir of our country.
This, I think, is an invitation for colonisation to return, because enforcement of law is a sovereign matter different from implementation of programmes and plans in which international institutions and agencies participate.
In the end, I would like to say that we do not need to make any concessions for the sake of the World Cup. We do not need to jeopardise the interests of our country and its citizens by amending the labour law, which suits the situation of the country. The strange thing is that the ministry strongly defends foreign workers in this country while doing nothing to defend nationals who are suffering and being defamed because of them.