Qatar’s new sponsorship laws will keep lawyers busy

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Companies in Qatar could bar senior foreign employees from joining rival firms for two years after they quit and end their contract once a new law replacing the current sponsorship system is enforced. This is currently the practice in neighbouring UAE. Lawyers would be working overtime drafting ironclad job contracts for companies for mostly professional foreign workers in the changed system, those in the know said.

Exit permits

Qatar announced it proposes to change sponsorship rules for foreign workers and reform the contentious exit permit system. The exit permit would be controlled by the Ministry of Interior ministry via a new automated system. The ministry would give the employer 72 hours to justify why an employee should not leave the country and if no response is received within that grace period, the employee would be allowed to travel overseas.

The e-government system, `Metrash 2’, would automatically grant the employee the an exit permit. Any objections by the employer would be reviewed by a special committee. Travel applications for emergencies would be identified and dealt with separately, as the ministry has been doing in the case of resident permit renewals.

Changing jobs

Senior Ministry of Interior officials said at a news conference that foreign workers would be able to change jobs at the end of their contractual period.  If the contractual period is not mentioned and a contract is open-ended, the employee could switch jobs after five years. If foreign workers want to change jobs earlier, they would need the permission of their employer.

Currently, foreign workers require a no-objection certificate (NOC) from their employers before they can change sponsorship and take up a new job in Qatar. Alternatively, they can leave the country for two years before returning to take up a new position.”No NOC would be required to change jobs after five years,” said an official at the news conference. In the case of fixed period contracts, no NOC would be needed by a foreign worker to change jobs.

Image credit: Mohamad Shams

Trade secrets

The biggest concern for companies is that trade secrets would be carried by employees to rival firms. Under the changed system, professionals and others holding key positions in companies could be asked to sign contracts with tough clauses making sure they are not able to join rival companies for a minimum of two years after they have ended their contract, sources in the business community said. “Here, they might emulate the Dubai system,” said a businessman.

“Companies would not shy from taking legal action against ex-employees if they breach contracts. Lawyers will be quite busy now working on contracts, as well as under the new sponsorship regime,” another observer said. The press release issued at the news conference said model contracts would be distributed and an employer can add more conditions to the contract as long as they do not conflict with the new law.

Seeking suggestions

The government, according to the officials, would be referring the new proposals to the Qatar Chamber to seek suggestions from the business community. After this, the proposals would be referred to the Advisory Council.

The Cabinet has already given its initial approval to the proposed changes. Although officials refused to give a time frame for putting the new systems in place, it is understood it might be done sooner rather than later.

Recruitment

Under the new system, a company or individual would apply to recruit a foreign worker and the government would then issue an entry visa. The government would be the sponsor, not the company or individual in the case of domestic workers as well those being hired from overseas.

The worker would sign a job contract with the employer based on the offer letter received. The contract would be endorsed by the Ministry of Interior as well as the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The probation period for a worker would be three months.

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Once the new law comes out, the employer would not be liable for an employee’s financial commitments. Instead, financial obligations incurred by foreign workers would be civil commitments governed by state laws, including the civil and commercial laws.

Penalties

Other important points of the proposed system include increasing the penalty for confiscating a worker’s travel documents from a maximum of QR 10,000 to up to QR 50,000 per passport. Employers would also be required to pay wages electronically to ensure they are deposited into a worker’s bank account on time.

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Harsher penalties for Labour Law violations, such as late payment of wages and non-compliance with the new accommodation standards are being formulated, though no details of the latter were provided. Officials at the press conference said the kafala system would be eliminated, starting by changing the name of the law to one governing the “entry, residence and exit of expatriate workers”.

The press briefing was addressed by Brigadier Muhammad Ahmed Al Atiq, assistant director-general of the directorate of border, passports and expatriate affairs, Colonel Abdullah Saqr Al Mohannadi, director of the human rights department at the Ministry of Interior, Salih Saeed Al Sahwi, manager, labour relations department, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and Ali Ahmed Al Khulaifi, director of the planning and quality department at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

(With inputs from Mohamad Shams and Shereen D’Souza)

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