The government increased overall efforts to prevent trafficking, although workers continued to face obstacles when attempting to change jobs without employer permission under the most recent reform to Qatar’s visa sponsorship system. The NCCHT met monthly to implement its 2019-2022 National Action Plan to combat trafficking, which focused on prevention, protection, prosecution, and regional and international cooperation. The government continued its technical cooperation program with the ILO’s Doha office during the reporting period, and in July 2021, the government and ILO agreed to launch a second phase of the program through December 2023 to continue to build the government’s anti-trafficking capacity and generate sustainable labor reform efforts.
Article 33 of Qatari Labor Law No. 14 of 2004 prohibited recruitment agencies from receiving recruitment or placement fees from workers. In 2017, in an effort to address reports that workers supporting infrastructure projects for the 2022 FIFA World Cup had paid exorbitant recruitment fees to come to Qatar to work, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL), the lead Qatari agency for preparation for the event, began requiring companies and contractors to reimburse workers for recruitment fees paid by workers in their home country. However, employees under SCDL oversight only made up approximately 50,000 out of a total of two million low-wage migrant workers in Qatar. Furthermore, media and NGOs continued to report migrant workers in Qatar frequently paid illegal recruitment fees to unregulated agents in labor-source countries; in March 2022, one media outlet reported Bangladeshi and Nepali migrants typically paid up to $4,000 in recruitment fees to secure a job in Qatar. Migrant workers who incurred debt to pay recruitment fees remained vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, as they may have stayed longer in exploitive situations to pay off that debt. 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, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, 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 Qatari employers paid all recruitment fees. Although QVCs reduced instances of contract- switching, rights groups and NGOs noted QVCs did not address workers who paid recruitment fees to brokers prior to visiting the centers, as QVCs handled only the end of the recruitment process. In the previous reporting period, the QVC in Dhaka, Bangladesh, began to process work visas for domestic workers, and in 2021, QVCs in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka began processing applications for domestic workers and were mandated to use the recently revised domestic worker standard employment contract. Previously, the QVCs did not accommodate domestic worker applications.
MOL made progress monitoring Qatari recruitment agencies’ interactions with labor-source intermediaries, despite its first priority being to address problematic working conditions and payment issues for workers already in Qatar. In 2021, the government backlisted 87 recruitment agencies and revoked licenses of an additional 46 for violating the labor law. Furthermore, in February 2022 and March 2022, MOL blacklisted an additional 35 agencies and revoked the license of one other; the government released the names of the agencies to the public with the intent to advise against conducting business with such agencies. Additionally, in February 2022, MOL launched a hotline and dedicated email address to receive public complaints related to non-compliant conduct of recruitment agencies. As of October 2021, the government also conducted 15,327 workplace and 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. It also fined 393 worksites for violation of summer work hours during the year. However, analogous to previous years, the government did not provide a breakdown of the kinds of violations found via inspections, and neither MOL nor PPO reported investigating any of these violations as potential trafficking crimes.
MOL also continued to handle worker complaints; between October 2020 and October 2021, MOL received more than 24,650 complaints from workers in-person and online; nearly 75 percent of these complaints were settled amicably, while the remainder were referred to the LDRCs to be handled in court. MOL would only refer worker complaints to the LRDC if they could not be resolved within one week. As of October 2021, the LDRCs received 4,315 labor-related complaints and issued 3,983 judiciary verdicts; the government did not report the outcome of the remaining 332 complaints. The government reported it mostly issued verdicts in favor of the employees and not their employers; in 2021, the government reported 84 percent of verdicts issued were in favor of workers. The law mandated the LDRCs reach resolution within three weeks for any contract or labor dispute; however, NGOs and media sources consistently reported cases took significantly longer to resolve in practice, and in many instances of non-payment or delayed payment of wages, the worker did not receive the wages they were owed because the verdict rendered by the LDRC could not be enforced unless the worker filed a separate case in civil court. In an effort to overcome this problem and provide compensation to workers in such cases, the government established a Worker’s Support Fund; employers were required to pay 120 QR ($33) per worker per year into the fund, which became operational in 2020. In 2021, the government provided 55 million QR ($15.11 million) to 3,082 workers from the fund; this was a significant increase compared with 2020 when the fund distributed 14 million QR ($3.85 million) to 5,500 workers. Despite the goal of the fund, NGOs and rights groups reported that in order to be eligible to compensated by the fund, workers still had to obtain a civil court ruling, which rendered workers vulnerable to exploitation while they waited for compensation. Additionally, the government did not report if the LDRCs were able to refer cases with trafficking indicators to the MOI for investigation despite the committees almost exclusively handling cases of non- or delayed-payment of wages, a significant trafficking indicator.
The government continued to utilize its Wage Protection System (WPS), which required employers to pay workers electronically on a timely basis in accordance with the labor law and automatically alerted officials to instances of wage abuse. The government reported 97 percent of migrant workers in Qatar were registered in the WPS at the close of the reporting period; however, it reported that only 84 percent of migrant workers actually received payments via the system, while more than 65,500 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. In the previous reporting period, MOL and the Qatar Central Bank adopted measures to promote and facilitate domestic workers’ access to bank accounts, thereby enhancing their wage protection and reducing their risk to exploitation; 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 previous reporting period. However, the government did not report taking any new actions in 2021 to include domestic workers into the WPS. MOL’s WPS Unit worked to detect non-compliance in the system and subsequently penalize companies and employers; however, MOL’s enforcement efforts depended on the PPO and lacked the formal authority to issue fines or other stringent penalties. Accordingly, during the reporting year, MOL blacklisted 38,314 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. MOL 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. Nonetheless, during the year, the government reported it referred 1,994 companies that violated the WPS to the PPO for criminal prosecution but did not report whether 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. 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. Between February 2021 and September 2021, an international organization reported more than 280,000 (13 percent of the total workforce) had their basic wage increase to the new minimum wage; in addition, the international organization reported an unknown number of workers benefited from the stipulated accommodations and food allowances. Moreover, in conjunction with Law No. 17 of 2020, an international organization reported the WPS could also detect violations of payment below the minimum wage and food and accommodation allowances. However, despite measures to monitor payments and help workers seek remedy for wage theft, NGOs reported non-payment or delayed payment of wages continued to be one of the most common abuses of migrant workers.
Under Law No. 4 of 2009, the government criminalized the confiscation of workers’ passports by a sponsor, punishable by a maximum fine of 25,000 QR ($6,870). The PPO prosecuted a variety of cases exhibiting trafficking indicators under the labor laws, residency laws, or penal code; these cases included three instances of violence against domestic workers, 47 cases of passport confiscation, and 45 cases of visa fraud; the government did not report if any of the prosecuted cases received verdicts at the close of the reporting period, in previous years defendants found guilty of such crimes were administered fines. 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, workers in 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 still had the right to designate as “critical” 5 percent of their workforce, who required employer approval prior to exiting the country; domestic workers could not be deemed “critical.” Workers deemed “critical” could submit a petition to the exit grievances committee if their employer denied their exit permit request; in 2021, MOL approved 38 petitions in favor of the worker, and one petition was denied. Since the reforms’ inception, worker’s rights organizations and labor-source embassy representatives continued to report that, in general, migrant workers who desired to leave Qatar did so successfully without former employer approval. However, some NGOs continued to express concern that domestic workers were still required 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 a worker to stop them from leaving Qatar. Furthermore, reports of employers refusing to provide a worker’s air ticket fare to return home, filing an “absconding” or theft charge against a worker, purposely failing to renew a workers’ residence permit, or refusing to provide the worker’s passport after illegally retaining it all continued during the reporting period.
In August 2020, through the amendment of the labor law by Law No. 18 of 2020 and the amendment of the visa sponsorship law by Law No. 19 of 2020, the government announced the abolishment of the No Objection Certificate (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 and then initiate a transfer through MOL’s digital system, which notified the employer of the transfer and through which the worker could submit the required documents to begin the process. Once MOL approved the transfer, the new employer would initiate a digital employment contract for the new job for the worker to sign; MOL reported a decision on the application to change employers was made within seven to 10 working days. Upon authentication of the digital contract, the worker could begin working for the new employer. 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, NGOs continued to report several obstacles during implementation of the reform that limited workers’ job mobility. In 2021, NGOs noted an increase in reports of MOL rejecting a worker’s request without explanation, significant delays in the government’s decision on the transfer, and the rise of a “de facto NOC.” Although neither a resignation letter, signed and stamped by a former employer, nor an NOC were required by the law, observers noted that some new employers still required it to be considered for a job and workers who requested to change jobs without their current employer’s permission faced delays in the process—increasing the chance the new employer would withdraw their job offer due to delays in the governments’ decision and an increased likelihood that their application would be rejected by MOL. In other cases, employers illegally requested between 5,000 and 15,000 QR ($1,370-$4,120) from workers to “release” them to a new job, even in cases where the worker had completed their contract. Reports continued 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. Domestic workers faced the greatest obstacles when attempting to change jobs—most worker’s new employers still required an NOC or “release paper”; because most former employers refused to provide this, domestic workers may have been forced to remain in exploitive situations. 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 live-in domestic workers, to continue in their current employment if they were paid on time and there was no threat to life. Between October 2020 and October 2021, MOL reported more than 242,870 workers transferred employment after receiving approval from the government (includes 3,674 domestic workers who changed jobs); in total, the government received 344,774 requests to change jobs and rejected 99,814, and the remaining 2,090 remained pending. NGOs noted this total number of approved transfers did not disaggregate how many workers managed to do so without securing the permission of their employer. Furthermore, the government reported receiving 3,237 complaints from workers whose current employers objected the transfer request; out of those, 1,074 transfers were approved, while the remainder remained under review at the close of the reporting period. In July 2021 the government announced employers would no longer receive notification of their worker’s request to transfer and once workers submitted a transfer request, employers could no longer cancel their visas or file “absconding” changes against the worker. However, the government did not report implementing these changes at the close of the reporting period. 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 take retaliatory actions against a worker as a means of unliterally controlling their workforce without being held accountable or penalized.
The March 2018 domestic worker law stipulated domestic workers were required to have government-verified contracts; to receive adequate employer-provided food, accommodation, medical benefits, one day off per week, limited 10-hour workdays, sick leave, return flight tickets once each year, three weeks paid vacation per year, and full end-of-service payments; to be guaranteed access to the dispute resolution committees to resolve workplace grievances; and to be allowed to leave their employers in cases of exploitation or violation of contract terms. NGOs reported concerns the 2018 law left several provisions vague, including mechanisms to ensure employers actually paid workers or provided entitled annual leave; additionally, details on the allotted weekly day off and food and accommodation standards were limited. The law did not refer to paid overtime and allowed for a workday that exceeded the 10-hour limit if there was an agreement between the employer and employee. According to the law, employers who breached their obligations on key provisions related to working hours, living conditions, weekly rest day, annual leave, and end of service benefits should receive a fine, which could be doubled if the employer failed to pay the worker on time. In 2021, in partnership with an international organization, the government adopted a revised standard employment contract for domestic workers; the revised contract specified additional rights for workers and provided clarity on the terms and conditions of their employment. The new standard employment contract aligned domestic workers’ rights with those of private sector workers, specifically in overtime payment, termination of employment, and sick leave entitlements. The government reported both private recruitment agencies and QVCs had begun using the revised domestic worker contract. MOL inspectors remained without authority to conduct inspections in private residences without written permission from the PPO, limiting their ability to enforce protections outlined in the law and identify key trafficking indicators or potential trafficking victims from inspections. Although domestic workers have been able to file grievances with the LDRCs since 2018, workers rarely filed complaints due to prolonged court proceedings, the uncertainty the employee would receive the wages they were owed even if the dispute ended in the employee’s favor, fear of retaliation from employers, and the limited scope in types of complaints the committees handle.
During the reporting period, the government worked with an international organization to disseminate infographics and frequently asked questions for both workers and employers on the most recent sponsorship reforms to clarify requirements and procedures for requesting a transfer or terminating a contract; materials were circulated through MOL and an international organization’s social media platforms and through labor-source embassies, domestic worker community groups, recruitment agencies, and QVCs. MOL collaborated with an international organization and the International Domestic Worker’s Federation (IDWF) in conjunction with International Domestic Workers’ Day in June 2021 to organize a panel discussion with representatives of the domestic worker community in Qatar, IDWF, MOL, and MOI to highlight the impact of newest labor reforms on domestic workers and the role of employers in promoting decent work conditions for this population. In addition, MOL, in partnership with an NGO, published revised versions of two informational booklets aimed at raising awareness of domestic worker rights; the booklet aimed at workers was disseminated in 12 languages while the booklet targeting employers was disseminated in two languages. In February 2022, the NCCHT organized an art exhibition on trafficking, targeted at the public, to raise awareness of the crime; during the exhibition, flyers and brochures in Arabic and English, which included information on the anti-trafficking statute and ways to report the crime to authorities, were distributed to visitors. Officials maintained multiple hotlines for use by vulnerable migrant workers, including trafficking victims. In February 2022, MOL launched the government’s first hotline and email address specifically to report trafficking and trafficking-related crimes. However, as in the previous years, the government did not report how many calls any of the hotlines received or if any calls were referred to law enforcement for criminal investigation as potential trafficking crimes. 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. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.