The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The NCCHT reportedly met monthly to implement its National Action Plan to combat trafficking, which spanned from 2019-2022 and prioritized prevention, protection, prosecution, and regional and international cooperation. During the previous reporting period, the Supreme Judiciary Council began drafting its own strategic action plan with specific goals related to trafficking, increasing judicial awareness, and enhancing practices to identify and address forced labor cases; however, the council did not report whether its own action plan was completed or if it had begun to be implemented during the year. During the reporting period, the government coordinated with an NGO and an international organization to launch a campaign specifically designed for domestic workers and their employers to raise awareness on precautions related to the pandemic, best practices and guidance on how to contact the COVID-19 hotline and the MADLSA hotline for labor complaints through text messages in English, Arabic, Urdu, Nepali, Bengali, Tamil, Sinhala, Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, Swahili, Bahasa, and Tagalog. The messages also reminded workers of their rights and employers of their legal obligations under the domestic workers law. The government and its partners sent a total of 1.85 million text messages to domestic workers in Qatar and 92,620 text messages to employers of domestic workers. The campaign included an awareness raising video that officials disseminated in conjunction with International Domestic Workers Day in June 2020. Additionally, the government launched a series of public service announcements on traditional and social media on how to identify forced labor indicators, such as passport confiscation. In coordination with an international organization, labor inspectors disseminated a flyer on passport confiscation and promoted it through social media in conjunction with World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. The QVCs, established to help regulate the recruitment process in eight critical labor-source countries, organized two awareness campaigns during the reporting period on worker rights in Qatar. The government maintained its publication and distribution of manuals for expatriates in Arabic, English, and several labor-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 March 2020, the Government Communications Office and MADLSA launched a messaging service on an internet communications platform to clarify Qatar’s labor law and regulations for employers and employees. Officials maintained multiple hotlines for use by vulnerable migrant workers, including trafficking victims; as in the previous year, the government did not report how many calls the lines received.
The government continued to implement its January 2020 decision to extend the abolishment of the exit permit requirement to additionally allow workers not protected under the labor law, including domestic workers, workers of ministries and other government entities, public institutions, sea and agriculture workers, and workers employed in casual work, to depart Qatar without employer approval at any time during the course of an employment contract. Employers in the private sector still had the right to designate as critical no more than five percent of their workforce, who required employer approval prior to exiting the country; however, domestic workers could not be deemed critical. As of August 2020, MADLSA had approved 42,171 requests for exit permit exemptions. NGOs continued to express concern with a condition of the decision that required domestic workers to inform their employer in person 72 hours prior to their departure, as this requirement could give time to an abusive employer to use retaliatory measures against workers, such as filing absconding charges to stop the worker from leaving Qatar. Other NGOs reported that some immigration officials still required employers to complete paperwork before allowing workers to the leave the country, suggesting that awareness of the decision was low across government agencies.
In August 2020, through the amendment of the labor law by Law No. 18 of 2020 and the amendment of the Sponsorship Law by Law No. 19 of 2020, the government announced the abolishment of the NOC, which allowed all workers, including domestic workers, to change jobs without the permission of their employers after fulfilling certain conditions – including completing a probationary period and serving notice. Workers could electronically notify their employers of their desire to quit, giving them the notice period mandated by the law before moving to a new job. The worker could initiate the transfer through MADLSA’s digital system, which notified the employer of the transfer and through which the worker could submit the required documents to begin the process. The worker would receive notification that the transfer was complete via text message from MADLSA, and the new employer then would initiate a digital employment contract for the new job for the worker to sign. Upon authentication of the digital contract, the worker could begin working for the new employer. Since August 2020, MADLSA reported more than 100,000 workers had initiated an employment transfer. The government included a provision in these amendments to ensure all workers could change jobs without the notice period if the employer did not fulfill their legal obligations to the worker, such as endangering the worker’s health, assaulting the worker, or misrepresenting contract terms. However, media sources and NGOs reported several obstacles during implementation of the reform; such as instances of employers retaliating against an employee who initiated a transfer by canceling their visa or filing an absconding charge prior to the transfer being completed – rendering the worker illegal and at increased risk of trafficking, detention, or deportation. Moreover, some workers did not seek transfers for fear of threats and retaliation from their employer; NGOs reported officials of labor-source country embassies advised workers, especially domestic workers, to continue in their current employment if they were paid on time and there was no threat to life. Overall, NGOs reported that although the removal of the exit permit and the abolishment of the NOC were improvements, the sponsorship system would continue to persist as long as both the employee’s work and residence visas were tied to an employer and employers could continue to file absconding charges against a worker as a retaliatory measure.
The government continued to employ its Wage Protection System (WPS), which required employers to pay workers electronically on a timely basis in accordance with the labor law and automatically flagged instances of wage abuse. The government reported 97 percent of laborers in Qatar were registered in the WPS at the close of the reporting period; however, it reported 83 percent of laborers actually received payments via the system, while more than 65,000 companies were registered for wage disbursements through this mechanism during the reporting year. The WPS continued to exclude workers not covered by the Labor Law, including domestic workers, sea and agricultural workers, government employees, casual workers, and workers in the petroleum sector. However, in April 2020, MADLSA and the Qatar Central Bank adopted measures to promote and facilitate domestic workers’ access to bank accounts, thereby enhancing their wage protection and lessening their risk to exploitation and potential instances of forced labor; an international organization also reported that a proposal to extend coverage of the WPS to domestic workers was under deliberation at the close of the reporting period. MADLSA’s Wage Protection System Unit worked to detect non-compliance in the WPS and subsequently penalize companies and employers; however, MADLSA’s enforcement efforts depended on the PPO and lacked the formal authority to issue fines or other stringent penalties. Accordingly, during the reporting year, MADSLA blacklisted 6,743 companies for non-compliance with the WPS, which barred the companies from placing public bids, applying for bank loans, seeking new projects, or recruiting new employees and transferring employees. MADLSA could refer companies to the PPO for criminal proceedings, and in severe cases of non-compliance, the PPO could penalize a company through fines. However, referrals to the PPO were rare – as wage abuse cases could be very lengthy in court. The government did not report if it referred any of the blacklisted companies to the PPO for criminal prosecution, or if it classified any as potential trafficking cases. In August 2020, the government announced a non-discriminatory minimum wage through Law No. 17 of 2020, which came into force in March 2021, applying to all workers in all sectors, including domestic workers; MADLSA reported the new law would positively affect 300,000 workers. In addition to the basic minimum wage, the law required employers to ensure that workers have decent accommodations and food, and the law stipulated allowances employers must provide for those provisions. Although this law could likely improve living conditions of workers, and thereby lessen their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse, experts have claimed the strength of the WPS’s monitoring system would determine the success of the minimum wage, and that penalties would need to become more stringent and applied more swiftly to ensure compliance.
During the reporting year, MADLSA reported conducting 27,996 worksite and 7,963 accommodations visits, which resulted in 4,026 violation reports and referrals to the PPO, up from 2,553 reported violations during the previous reporting period. The government blacklisted 136 recruitment agencies and temporarily closed 263 worksites for violation of summer work hours; however, analogous to previous years neither MADLSA nor the PPO investigated any of these cases as potential trafficking crimes. As in previous years, the government was unable to provide data on the following: the number of domestic worker complaints, non-payment of wages filings, and other migrant worker-reported grievances related to the inspections. The government continued to work with ILO’s Doha office to strengthen anti-trafficking operating capacity and generate sustainable labor reform efforts throughout Qatar. The government maintained 50 bilateral agreements and five memoranda of understanding with labor-source countries that addressed recruitment issues and worker rights, and it worked with individual countries to certify vetted labor recruitment offices to reduce fraud or excessive debts that could facilitate labor trafficking.
In the previous reporting period, the government opened 14 QVCs in eight critical labor source countries (providing 80 percent of the total workforce in Qatar), to include Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The centers were responsible for finalizing all procedural elements pertaining to labor recruitment, including fingerprinting, medical examinations, verifying educational certificates, signing contracts in local languages, issuing Qatari residency permits prior to source country departure, opening bank accounts for workers, and attempting to ensure employers pay all fees. The QVCs aimed to reduce instances of contract-switching, in which recruiters lured workers under one contract in home countries and subsequently forced them to sign new ones with lower wages once in Qatar by ensuring one unified contract was concurrently filed abroad and in Qatar. In January 2021, the QVC in Dhaka, Bangladesh began to process work visas for domestic workers; in addition, the MOI announced it planned to include issuance of domestic worker visas at other QVC locations. Previously, the QVCs did not accommodate domestic worker applications. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.