Qatar to enforce key labour reform from November

Doha (AFP) - Football World Cup 2022 host Qatar will begin enforcing a law that ensures migrant workers get paid on time from early November, labour ministry officials said on Wednesday.

The Wage Protection System (WPS) -- trumpeted by the government as a "significant" reform -- has been delayed from an initial start date of August 18 to allow companies more time to prepare for the change.

It is one of a number of measures that Qatar is expected to introduce in an attempt to improve labour conditions following criticism by rights campaigners of the treatment of migrant workers.

"We will start applying the law on November 3rd," labour ministry official Saleh al-Shawi said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Under the WPS, workers will be paid either twice a month or monthly, with wages electronically transferred to their bank accounts.

Banks will be compelled to open accounts for workers and transfer the wages once they have been paid by companies.

Shawi said that all banks within Qatar will participate in the WPS and inspection teams will be used to watch out for any company breaking the rules.

Any violations could potentially mean imprisonment for bosses, and there are fines of up to 6,000 Qatari riyals ($1,650/1,460 euros), said Shawi.

Companies who do not comply could also be punished by being banned from recruiting new staff.

Inspection teams, overseen by the labour ministry, will monitor the new system and identify any firms not complying with the regulations.

"We are ready," Shawi added.

More than one million workers are thought to be potentially affected by the introduction of the WPS.

Failure to pay salaries on time, especially for blue collar workers, has been one of the biggest complaints voiced by rights groups against companies in the energy-rich Gulf state.

A 2013 academic study, "Portrait of Low-Income Migrants in Contemporary Qatar", found that around a fifth of migrant workers were "sometimes, rarely or never" paid on time.

The WPS has been touted by the government as proof of its commitment to reform, in response to furious criticism of Qatar's labour practices since the controversial decision to allow it to host football's biggest tournament.

Ministers predict that changes to the "kafala" sponsorship system -- widely blamed for enabling the abuse of foreign workers, especially labourers involved in the country's vast infrastructure projects -- will be announced later this year.

- 'Only one small step' -

However, Wednesday's announcement failed to pacify Qatar's critics, who urged Doha to do more on labour reform.

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, told AFP: "This announcement is not credible without fundamental reform. If the government is serious then it has to abolish the 'kafala' exit visa system and introduce a minimum wage."

Burrow also called on workers in Qatar to be given a "collective voice and collective bargaining" rights.

Amnesty International's Mustafa Qadri welcomed the announcement but cautioned it was "only one small step on the long road towards ending chronic labour abuse in Qatar".

He said the WPS had to be properly enforced.

"Success must be measured not by the deadline set, but by proactive actions by the authorities and business operating in Qatar... to ensure migrant workers are adequately paid and on time," Qadri told AFP.