Posted on January 03, 2015

The private sector has softened its stand on the issue of exit permit rules and sponsorship change for foreign workers, said The Peninsula. Understandably, the only change the sector wants in the new system is that engineers and senior employees of mega projects should not be entitled to sponsorship change before they have completed five to 10 years with a company. This is because a major development project takes at least five to 10 years to complete, argues Qatar Chamber, the representative body of the private sector.

The chamber is interacting with the Advisory Council on proposed amendments to certain key provisions of the labour law (Law No. 4 of 2004). The amendments are part of a draft law which is with the council. Its legal committee is preparing a report. The proposed changes are mainly related to the employment contract of foreign workers, based on which an employee is to be allowed to change sponsorship automatically after serving a company for a certain period.

According to the amendments, workers with 'open' job contracts will be automatically entitled to change sponsorship after serving a company for five years. In other words, a worker will not need permission from his employer to take up another job. In the case of 'fixed duration' contracts, workers will be permitted to automatically change sponsorship at the end of the period. Though the law says a limited period contract can be for a maximum of five years, normally the duration is two years.

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In the chamber's opinion, the question of sponsorship change should be linked to the nature of the job, particularly of professionals like engineers, senior technicians and others working on mega projects. Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim Al Thani, Chairman, Qatar Chamber, told local Arabic daily Al Arab in remarks published yesterday that they, as representatives of the private sector, have given their observations and recommendations about the draft law to the council.

He said details in the draft law about job contracts of foreign workers lacked clarity. "The council's review of the draft law is in the final stages," he said. Rashid Al Athba, member, Qatar Chamber Board, said the chamber wants the duration of service of senior staff, including engineers and technicians, on mega projects, to be extended to five to 10 years before they could be eligible to change sponsorship. "Take Musherib development project as an example. It can't be completed in five years. "So a senior staffer working on the project cannot be permitted to leave midway. The project is of immense value to the national economy."

Therefore, the chamber is insisting that conditions of sponsorship change for foreign workers be kept flexible. "We have no objection to the conditions for sponsorship change for other workers," Al Athba said. "Let the duration of service for them be two to five years." The private sector, he said, had no objection to the system of exit permit being changed. The new system will facilitate online clearance by the Ministry of Interior for overseas travel by a foreign worker if his employer fails to give nod within 72 hours of application.

Al Athba said the fine suggested in the draft law for an employer keeping the passport of a foreign worker is a deterring $15,000. The proposed amendments also make it mandatory for all workers to be paid salaries through banking channels. The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs are carrying out extensive changes in the labour law to help protect the rights of foreign workers and improve their working and living conditions, said Al Athba.