Sponsorship rule change in the offing

May 02, 2012 - 1:50:24 am

DOHA: Qatar plans to scrap the sponsorship regime for foreign workers and replace it with a liberal contract-based system and allow the setting up of a trade union that is to be supervised by an apex committee controlled entirely by citizens.

Asking private companies earlier not to keep the passports of their foreign workers was a step forward to remove the sponsorship system, said the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Labour.

The term ‘sponsorship’ is described akin to slavery by some human rights groups. “So we want to do away with this system,” Hussein Yousuf Al Mulla told local Arabic daily Al Arab in an interview published yesterday.

In the new system the contract signed between an employee and his employer under the ‘guarantee and direct supervision’ of the labour ministry would matter, he suggested.

Asked if a foreign worker would be able to freely change jobs in the new system, Al Mulla replied in the negative and said in that case the worker would have to cancel the contract and leave the country.

But he must have some justification to do that and money alone shouldn’t be a consideration to leave a job.

“If another employer brings that worker back to Qatar then he must sign a new contract,” the official clarified. He, however, didn’t specify if the worker would be required to spend sometime overseas before taking up a new job in Qatar.

Currently, if a foreign worker quits a job here and wishes to return to take up employment with another company, he must spend two years overseas.

The undersecretary also hinted that the new system would not apply to maids since a law separate from the labour legislation that covers private sector workers, is on the anvil that would regulate maids.

“We (Qatar) want a uniform legislation for all GCC states as regards the work and stay of foreign workers,” Al Mulla said.

The official was, however, non-committal when asked about the timeframe by which the new system was expected to be put in place.

About the trade union, Al Mulla said a ‘Labour Committee’ is to be set up with representation from the private sector and expatriate workers to pave the way for the setting up of a trade union in future.

This committee could, however, have only Qatari citizens as board members and expatriate-members would only have the right to vote. They can’t be office-bearers.

This committee would in future set up a trade union and closely monitor it. Its key task will be also be to receive complaints from workers, help redress them and defend workers’ rights.

“The panel would take much burden off some government agencies,” said Al Mulla, hinting that the labour department’s work of solving labor disputes might be eased.

The labor ministry will have no control over the committee and a labor union formed by it in future could have not only foreign laborers as members but also professionals and other employees in it.

The issue has been discussed by the State Cabinet. The Advisory Council has also deliberated on it and what is awaited is a green signal from the top.

“The Emir (H H Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani) is taking keen interest in the whole issue,” Al Mulla said.