Qatar scraps unpopular exit permits for domestic workers

DOHA, Qatar (AFP) — Qatar scrapped mandatory exit permits for migrant domestic staff and other groups on Thursday, as part of efforts to boost rights for guest workers amid scrutiny of its record.

Previously all foreigners working permanently in the gas-rich country required authorization from bosses to leave, but now only military personnel will routinely require such a dispensation.

Qatar has made a series of reforms to its employment regulations since being selected to host the 2022 World Cup.

It also dropped the exit visa requirements for other foreign workers — including civil servants, oil and gas workers, and employees of government bodies including Qatar Airways.

“Now a domestic worker has the right to enter and exit the country without their employer’s permission,” labor ministry under-secretary Mohamed al-Obaidly told AFP.

“We are working on a complete system of (labor) legislation.”

The announcement came after Human Rights Watch published it annual report Tuesday, saying Qatari “reforms have not gone far enough, and implementation has been uneven”.

Domestic staff must give their employers 72 hours’ notice before leaving under the new rules.

Companies can also designate up to five percent of staff as “responsible” roles, such as those with financial oversight, who will still be required to seek managerial approval to leave.

Some two million foreigners work in Qatar, many employed directly or indirectly on vast infrastructure projects for the 2022 World Cup.

One Filipina domestic worker in Qatar told AFP she welcomed the latest changes.

“There’ll be no more hassle,” she said of the roughly 100,000 domestic workers like her based in the Gulf country.

In February 2019, Qatar said it was committed to labor reforms, following an Amnesty International report alleging it was failing to stop widespread abuse of workers.

“The International Labour Organization warmly welcomes these changes which will benefit many migrant workers in Qatar,” the head of the UN agency’s Qatar project office, Houtan Homayounpour, said on Thursday.

“The removal of exit permits is an important milestone in the government’s labor reform agenda.”

Alongside the exit permit reforms, Qatar also announced in October it would remove the requirement for some workers to obtain employers’ permission before changing jobs.

Doha is also due to introduce a permanent minimum wage this year to replace the current temporary floor of just $200 per month.

© Agence France-Presse