Qatar’s adoption of a new law on domestic workers provides labor rights for domestic workers for the first time, Human Rights Watch said. Qatari authorities should enact strong enforcement policies and close loopholes that place domestic workers at risk of exploitation.
On August 22, 2017, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, ratified Law No.15 on service workers in the home (“Domestic Workers Law”). The cabinet adopted the law in February. The law guarantees workers a maximum 10-hour workday, a weekly rest day, three weeks of annual leave, and an end-of-service payment of at least three weeks per year. The law does not, however, set out enforcement mechanisms.
“It is a positive step, if long overdue, that Qatar finally enacted a labor rights law to protect its almost 200,000 domestic workers,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But these rights will remain only on paper unless the government rapidly creates an enforcement system to give teeth to the law and sanction abusive employers.”
Qatar has 173,742 domestic workers, including 107,621 women, according to the country’s 2016 labor force survey. Most are from Asia or Africa. Domestic workers are excluded from Qatar’s existing 2004 Labor Law protections.
Human Rights Watch has documented abuses against domestic workers in Gulf states over several years tied to the lack of labor law protections and the legally mandated sponsorship (kafala) system, which ties a migrant worker to a particular employer and does not allow a worker to freely change employers.
Abuses include unpaid or delayed wages, confinement to the employer’s house, excessively long workdays with no rest and no days off, passport confiscation, physical and social isolation, and in some cases, physical, verbal, or sexual assault by employers. Domestic workers, like other unskilled migrant workers, often do not speak Arabic and have limited legal protection.
The Domestic Workers Law requires a written contract that details the type and nature of the job, salary, and other conditions. However, the contract’s Arabic text prevails. Human Rights Watch has recommended that workers sign employment contracts in their native language that are notarized as identical to the Arabic version prior to departure from their country. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous instances of contract substitution, in which a worker signs a contract in their native language, only to discover that the Arabic version has less favorable terms.
The new law also sets out minimum requirements governing the employment of any domestic worker, which includes those performing housework, drivers, nannies, cooks, and gardeners, among others. It requires employers to treat workers “in a good manner that preserves their dignity and bodily integrity,” and not to harm the worker physically or psychologically, or endanger the worker’s life or health.
Employers must provide domestic workers with medical treatment for injuries or illness, and compensation for work injuries in accordance with the Labor Law. Employers must also provide food and adequate accommodation, but the law is vague on minimum standards. The law prohibits employers from deducting a worker’s pay to compensate for recruitment fees, but does not require employers to reimburse a worker for recruitment fees already paid.
While the law has a number of positive provisions, it is still weaker than the Labor Law, which protects all other workers, and does not fully conform to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention, the global treaty on domestic workers’ rights.
The Domestic Workers Law provides for a maximum 10-hour working day, while the Labor Law provides for a maximum 8-hour workday and a 48-hour work week. While the Domestic Workers Law provides that the working day should be interspersed with rest breaks, it does not stipulate how often, and breaks do not count as part of the 10 working hours, whereas the Labor Law requires rest every five hours.
The Domestic Workers Law allows overtime, including on weekly rest days if the domestic worker agrees, but does not require overtime pay or state that workers should be free to leave the workplace during their non-working hours.