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Qatar hopes to end 'kafala' system in 2015

AFP , Monday 4 May 2015
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Qatar's labour minister said Monday he hopes the country's controversial "kafala" system, which critics have likened to modern-day slavery, will be abolished before the end of this year.

Long condemned by human rights groups, kafala has become a major focus of criticism since Qatar was awarded the 2022 football World Cup, as the energy-rich country's labour laws come under increasing international scrutiny.

Under the scheme, employers in the Gulf kingdom can prevent foreign workers from changing jobs or leaving the country.

Dr Abdullah bin Saleh al-Khulaifi, the minister of labour and social affairs, said he was "90 percent" certain the system would be replaced within the next seven months.

"I hope it will be prior to the year end," said Khulaifi, speaking at a press briefing in Doha to foreign reporters.

"We discussed it, our stakeholders have looked at it... Now it is on track.

"Do I believe it will come out positively? Yes, I do. Because at the end of the day I believe it is good for the economy, it's good for the country."

Asked if the scheme would be abolished by the end of the year, Khulaifi replied: "I am 90 percent hopeful or believe that it will be."

Doha says it will replace the system with one based instead on employment contracts.

These contracts would last a maximum of five years and the current exit permit system would be replaced with one where workers give the authorities a maximum of 72 hours' notice that they want to leave the country.

The proposed reform has been discussed by the cabinet and is currently being considered by Qatar's Shura Council, an assembly which has the power to draft new laws.

Khulaifi also said Qatar would fully implement another major labour reform -- an electronic payment system for thousands of migrant labourers -- by mid-August.

This would ensure that up to one million workers get paid at least once a month and, in some cases, every fortnight.

Many labourers working on major infrastructure or World Cup projects within the gas-rich Gulf state have complained that payment of their salaries are often delayed.

"We are not hiding from our problems here in Qatar, we are facing them," said Khulaifi.

"We know that things aren't perfect but they are better than they were a year ago and I promise you they will be better a year from now."

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