Qatar, which will host the 2022 football World Cup, says it will abolish its controversial sponsorship system for foreign workers as international criticism mounts over their treatment.
It “will be replaced with a system based on employment contracts”, as part of a package of labour reforms, said a statement released at a press conference in Doha.
Sponsorship systems for foreign workers exist in most Gulf countries, which employ millions of foreigners, especially from Asia.
The system has been strongly criticised by human rights groups and likened to modern-day slavery.
The reforms will also end the longstanding requirement that foreign workers obtain their employer’s consent before leaving the country.
“The current exit permit system, which requires the employers’ consent for an employee to leave the country, will now be replaced with an automated system through the ministry of interior,” the statement said.
The new system will automatically grant an exit permit to an employee “after a 72-hour grace period prior to departure”, the statement said.
The government will also raise the fine for employers who confiscate the passports of foreign workers to 50,000 rials ($A14,700) from the current 10,000 rials, in a bid to stamp out the illegal but still common practice.
Qatar’s treatment of its massive foreign workforce has been under the international spotlight as it launches a massive construction programme for the world football showcase in 2022.
Amnesty International charged that the tens of thousands of migrant workers building the multi-billion-dollar World Cup infrastructure were being treated like “animals”, with hundreds dying on the construction sites, and launched a campaign for wholesale reforms.
Qatar has rejected claims that construction workers are being mistreated but has announced a series of measures to improve workplace safety and workers’ conditions.