Amid huge pressure from various international rights organizations, the government of Qatar has announced that migrant workers’ wages in Qatar, including that of Nepalese, should be paid directly into bank accounts, so that the government can track and punish employers who don’t pay on time or at all.
According to Qatar News Agency, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Ahmad bin Abdullah Al Mahmoud, after the cabinet meeting on April 30, 2014, stated that the cabinet approved the recommendations of the committee formed to study the protection system of state workers' wages.
According to these recommendations, a comprehensive electronic system is to be created and handled by Qatar Central Bank (QCB) and to be managed jointly with the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, and the financial institutions, establishments and companies.
Employers are to be obliged to transfer wages to the bank accounts of workers via a wage protection system on which the minister of labour and social affairs will issues a decision and toughen punishment for offenders.
These recommendations stipulate the amendment of Articles 1, 66, 145 of the Labour Law issued as Law No. 14 of 2004. The article 66 states that employees can be paid in cash and in person, and salaries can be transferred to bank accounts only by “mutual consent.”
The cabinet decision is a bit closer step to amend the key provision of its labour law, which currently doesn't require employers to make electronic wage payment for all workers. This new decision will be implemented only after the Emir's signature.
Although the timeline for the new system is yet to be announced, it is expected to be implemented in three phases. In the first phase, it will be enforced in those companies having more than 500 workers. It will then be implemented gradually in companies having 100-500 workers and less than 100 workers, respectively.
If the Labor Law is amended, workers would have to receive their salaries by bank transfer in the first week of the month, and it would be compulsory for all companies – private, government or semi-government – to comply.
Businesses that do not adhere to the new system can expect to be fined by the labor ministry, though no details are available about the level of the penalty proposed.
A field-based study prepared by Amnesty International shows that workers have been forced to labour hard due to fear of losing everything. They are threatened with penalty fines, deportation or loss of income if they do not show up for work even when they are not paid.
The study also stated that 90 percent workers' passports were held by employers, 56 percent didn't have a government health card which is essential to access public hospitals, 21 percent never received salary on time, 20 percent received less salary than it was promised and 15 percent took up different jobs than they were promised before.
In Qatar, more than 1.35 million workers are migrant workers. Majority of them are from Asian countries including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka.
Qatar is one of the major destinations for Nepali migrant workers. It is estimated more than 500,000 Nepalese are currently working there.
Migrant workers now make up some 94 per cent of the total workforce in Qatar.
The population of the country is growing at a remarkable rate, largely due to the recruitment of low-paid migrant workers to support infrastructure development.
This trend is set to increase in the coming years as Qatar gears up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.