The government increased its efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. The government formally enacted Law No. 21 of 2015 Regulating the Entry, Exit, and Residence of Foreigners and developed a new employer contract system applicable to all expatriate workers in Qatar, including domestic workers. The new e-contract system could reduce vulnerabilities to forced labor if fully implemented. Workers still require exit permits to depart the country. In accordance with Law No. 21, the government established a formal “Grievance Committee” that reviews within 72 hours rejected requests for exit permits to depart the country. In operation since December 2016, this committee addressed 498 denied exit permits, of which it upheld five—all of which involved unresolved legal issues. Although the government offers complimentary legal and translation assistance during court proceedings, it did not report how many workers who submitted a grievance received such services. Also in accordance with the law, the government initiated the process of converting all contracts into duplicative e-contracts in order for one contract to be on file in Qatar and the other in the respective source country. This new contract system includes standardized language, including in local languages of major labor-sending countries, and online instructional guidance in Arabic and English. In addition, under the new law employees are not required to have a “no objection certificate” to seek alternate employers upon conclusion of their contracts, although workers are still required to have this certificate to change jobs in the midst of an existing contract, which can be up to five years. Migrant workers are no longer required to leave the country for two years before seeking new employment in Qatar, thereby reducing the imperative for laborers seeking long-term employment in Qatar to reengage in potentially exploitative recruitment relationships. Since implementation of Law No. 21, the government has transferred approximately 5,200 workers to new employers. Although the sponsorship law requires an employer to secure a residence card for laborers within seven days, reports indicated this sometimes did not happen; the lack of a residence card essentially restricts their ability to access health care or lodge complaints with authorities. In advance of the December 2016 launch of Law 21 of 2015, officials conducted at least five lectures and town hall meetings reaching an unknown number of foreign diplomats, community leaders, business executives, and employers, and produced media publications to explain the new reforms and how workers could use these legal changes to more easily change employers or leave the country.
For most of the reporting period, the government did not appoint a lead for anti-trafficking efforts after the previous oversight body was dissolved. Nonetheless, the government continued to pursue various goals established in the 2016 written plan to combat trafficking. A new anti-trafficking committee, which includes representatives of both government offices and NGOs, was approved in October 2016 and members met unofficially to draft a new strategy for 2017-2022, which prioritizes prevention, protection, judicial pursuits, and regional and international cooperation. The government allocated approximately 7.2 million Qatari riyal ($1.97 million) for the development and implementation of the draft strategy. The government-funded Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center promoted awareness campaigns on various forms of abuse, including trafficking, and outlined where to receive help; these campaigns targeted women, domestic workers, and exploitative employers. In addition, the government sought to raise awareness among the local population through a new slavery exhibit as part of a museum consortium in Doha that showcased information on human trafficking trends in Qatar. The government published manuals for expatriates in Arabic, English, and several source country languages on proactive victim identification, domestic worker rights, and ways to combat trafficking in Qatar. It continued to publish and disseminate “worker rights” pamphlets in English, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Nepali, and Tagalog that contained relevant articles from the labor and sponsorship laws, in addition to the number for the complaint hotline, which received more than 4,200 calls during the year. The quasi-government Qatar Foundation and the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee co-published mandatory standards documents, which included workers’ rights and contractual incentives for contractors to adhere to Qatari labor laws.
In 2016, the government employed 397 labor inspectors, up from 350 in 2015, who conducted more than 44,500 labor inspections and filed 1,142 labor violation reports, though the government did not provide an exact figure on the total amount of fines placed on companies or how many fines it administered, and many of the inspections fell outside of the reporting period. The government canceled the licenses of 93 recruitment agencies, issued 78 warnings, wrote seven infringement reports, and revoked the licenses of 24 companies, compared to 15 in 2015, that MOI’s routine inspection and monitoring found to be noncompliant with the labor law; however, it did not report if it referred any companies, or their owners or staff, for further prosecution or whether it achieved any convictions for those suspected of illegal recruitment activities. Officials blacklisted more than 5,500 companies and 2,000 individuals in 2016 for unscrupulous practices, such as nonpayment of workers’ wages, exceeding the blacklisting of 2,417 companies the previous reporting period. In total, the government of Qatar took 34,662 decisions against companies for violations of either the labor law or the WPS. The government continued its rollout of the WPS, which requires employers to pay workers electronically and increases penalties for violating the labor code. In 2016, the system included bank accounts for over two million migrant workers and allowed for the tracking of unpaid wages; labor sending embassies reported a decline in unpaid or delayed wage cases by nearly 60 percent. The WPS detected more than 600 companies for labor violations; however, it remained unclear whether the system flagged any potential trafficking cases for criminal investigation. Allegations of employees forced to pay employers a certain amount of money before having their wages transferred electronically continued to exist, though improved access to ATMs, online banking mechanisms, and awareness campaigns reduced reported instances of this potential loophole in the system. The government continued to address recruitment issues and worker rights through 36 bilateral agreements and five MOUs with labor-sending countries. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not regularly provide anti-trafficking training for its international peacekeepers or diplomatic personnel.