With the announcement that Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, the legal and regulatory framework protecting the rights of employees has captured the public interest and continues to attract growing international media attention. Qatar's Labour Law (and Immigration Law), aims to provide comprehensive coverage of the relationship between an employer and employee. With huge investment in civic infrastructure, rising foreign investment and a population growing by the day, the administration and enforcement of employment rights will be key to Qatar's growth and future success.

Issues arising on hiring individuals

Immigration

Immigration rules in Qatar were previously covered by Law No.(4) of 2009 (Old Immigration Law). However, on 13 December 2016, the Qatar government announced the implementation of Law No.(21) of 2015 (New Immigration Law) which sets out the regulations under which expatriates may enter, exit, work and reside in Qatar. The New Immigration Law repeals, the Old Immigration Law in its entirety along with the decisions and resolutions previously used to implement it. The Immigration Department of the Ministry of Interior is the main agency of administration. The New Immigration Law defines an expatriate as any non-Qatari individual who enters Qatar to work, reside, visit, or for any other purpose. Unless an individual is an Arabian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) national, they must be employed by either a Qatari national, an entity registered to undertake business in Qatar or a resident family member on whom the individual is dependent. This arrangement does not therefore lend itself to short-term or casual employment arrangements.

Currently the nationals of some 33 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Japan, can enter Qatar on an on-arrival visa; other nationalities may enter and represent their companies or countries on business visas which must be applied for by individuals or entities authorised by the Immigration Department prior to arrival. Details in relation to such applications may be found on the Qatar Embassy website.

Only a holder of a valid work permit may work lawfully in Qatar. Work permits may only be applied for by an individual or entity registered with the employment authorities. These applicants are known as the workers' employer. Employment and immigration are interlinked in Qatar. Once a Qatari entity has been issued with an immigration card it may register with the Labour Department and submit block visa applications. A block visa application should state the gender, nationality and job title of the workers a Qatari entity wants to employ. Once the block visa application has been approved by the Labour Department, passport copies and bachelors' education certificates (notarised, legalised and authenticated for use in Qatar), if appropriate, should be submitted to the Immigration Department in order for each worker to be issued with his or her work permit; then the employer can proceed to apply for the workers residency once they have been relocated to Qatar at the expense of the workers' employer. Dual residency is permitted by discretion in Qatar. The process followed by Qatari nationals to employ expatriates is slightly different.

Where workers hold a valid Qatari residence permit they can apply to arrange for the residency of their spouses and dependent family members at the discretion of the Immigration Department. The resident will have to demonstrate to the immigration authorities that they are appropriately employed with sufficient funds to do so, i.e. currently only an individual with a professional visa designation (such as a manager) or an individual with a bachelor's degree certificate earning at least QAR 10,000 per month (approx USD 2,750).

Holders of residence permits may work but only for the individual or entity which facilitates and maintains their entry and residency in Qatar. Contract working for other third parties is not permitted unless approved by the Immigration Department. Individuals holding family residencies do not automatically have the right to work and must apply for, and be issued with, a labour card to work subject to some exceptions, e.g. the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC).

Part time workers can work, subject to the permission of their employer, for a Qatari national or an entity registered to undertake business in Qatar, there is currently no concept of part time work referred to in the Labour Law per se.

Penalties can be imposed by the Ministry of Interior in relation to breaches of the New Immigration Law. These penalties can be onerous, e.g. up to three years in prison and a fine of up to QAR 50,000 (approx USD 14,000). The penalties may be levied against any or all pertinent parties.

Qatarisation

It is important to note that there are laws and regulations in place to encourage the employment of Qatari nationals from time to time, known as Qatarisation. Specific sectors including banking may be subject to quota requirements to employ Qatari nationals and some organisations have selfimposed quotas, e.g. Qatar Foundation, but otherwise the Labour Department will review new block visa applications on an application by application basis.

Liability

During the period in which individuals reside in Qatar the worker's employer will be legally responsible for them, including obtaining and renewing residence permits and associated registrations.

The worker's employer will not be liable financially for any of the obligations of the individuals it employs unless it specifically agrees to guarantee such obligations, e.g. in a salary certificate letter addressed to a bank for the purposes of a worker obtaining a car loan etc.

Recruitment

Strictly speaking only 100% Qatari owned entities and Qatari nationals holding valid manpower licences may undertake the business of recruitment for third parties.

Employment structuring and documentation

Employment terms may be for a definite/fixed or an indefinite/unlimited duration. A fixed term is generally understood to be a term during which employment can only be terminated by the mutual agreement of both parties, i.e. notice cannot be given. An indefinite term is one in which notice can be given by either party in accordance with the Labour Law and employment contract and subject to the successful completion of probation.

The Labour Law provides for a single period of probation of up to six months' duration during which the employer may provide the worker with three days' written notice to terminate employment if the worker is not able to undertake the work for which they have has been employed. However, if the employer wants to terminate employment during the probation period for non-performance or capability, they must provide written notice in accordance with the terms of the employment contract.

Issues arising during the employment relationship

Wages, annual leave and working time

There is currently no minimum wage in Qatar, although the Labour Law does stipulate that the Emir can set one. Some embassies, e.g. the Philippine Embassy, are developing and promoting recommended minimum wage policies for their nationals.

The Labour Law has recently been amended such that now all salary payments for workers must be processed through the Wages Protection Programme (WPS). The effect of WPS is that salary payments will now need to be paid directly from the employer's local Qatari account into a Qatari account in the name of the worker. There are no recognised exemptions to this practice.

A worker who has completed one continuous year of service is entitled to annual leave with pay. Workers who have been employed for less than five years will receive no less than three weeks' annual paid leave, and those who have been in service for longer than five years will be entitled to no less than four weeks' annual paid leave.

A Muslim worker is entitled to Hajj leave without pay, not exceeding two weeks, to go on pilgrimage once during the period of his service dependent on how such leave is allocated internally from time to time.

The Labour Law provides for a maximum working week of 48 hours, eight hours a day, with Friday being the weekly day of paid rest. In Ramadan this is reduced to a maximum of six hours a day. Workers who are not in a position of responsibility, i.e. non-managerial positions, are entitled to a maximum of two hours' overtime pay a day in accordance with statutory rates which are set according to whether overtime is completed on a normal working day; Friday; during night time; or on a public holiday. The actual working hours of a worker should not exceed ten hours a day if overtime is worked.

Family rights

Female workers are entitled to 50 days' paid maternity leave if they have been in continuous employment for a year or more when they give birth. There is no other provision for family leave or paternity leave in the Labour Law.

The Labour Law states that female workers must be paid the same wage as male workers, if they undertake the same work, and must be afforded the same opportunities for training and promotion. Provisions are also made in relation to vocational workers and minors.

Trade unions

The Labour Law provides that where an entity employs more than one hundred Qatari workers, a single worker's committee may be formed by those Qatari workers. Striking is permitted for Qatari nationals only under very limited circumstances, but, amongst other things, the exercise of political or religious activities, the printing and dissemination of materials insulting the State is strictly prohibited. Workers' Committees should publish their policies and regulations according to certain guidelines.

Social insurance

There is currently no public social security scheme or any retirement pension applicable to non-Qatari workers. However, for Qatari national workers, there are obligations on employers in certain sectors to contribute to a pension fund in accordance with the provisions of Law No (24) of 2002.

The Qatar government announced that the much anticipated health insurance scheme "Seha" under which employers would be responsible for contributing to their employees' healthcare has now been abolished. However, we understand that the Qatar government is currently considering alternative proposals.

There are no obligatory insurances in Qatar. However, some employers may contractually offer workers benefits such as life assurance, permanent health insurance, private medical insurance and company cars etc.

Issues arising on termination of the employment relationship

Business transfers

The Labour Law (Article 52) provides that when an enterprise merges with another enterprise or transfers its ownership in, or its right to manage that enterprise, an employee's employment will not necessarily terminate.

In addition, the law provides that employment will not terminate on the death of an employer unless the contract of employment has been concluded because of the death or otherwise.

Sponsorship Transfer

The New Immigration Law has introduced a number of key changes to the underlying immigration framework in Qatar. The term "sponsor" has now been removed and replaced with "employer" as the entity responsible for bringing expatriate workers into Qatar and obtaining and managing their residency and subsequent exit from the country.

Whilst residency may be transferred between employers, this is subject to the discretion of the Immigration Department. The New Immigration Law does not refer to the requirement for employers to issue a letter of no objection (NOC) to enable an employee to transfer employment. Under the new regime, an individual may in principle transfer employment in two instances: if employed on a fixed term contract, on the expiry of the fixed term; and, if employed on an indefinite, or unlimited contract, once the employee has completed 5 years' continuous employment.

Terminating employment

Under the Labour Law, if the service contract is of an indefinite duration either the employer or the worker may terminate it without giving any reasons; notification periods will be dependent on the length of service and the terms of the contract. The employer should pay the worker all his other dues for the notice period if the worker continues to work normally during this period. If the contract is terminated without observing notice periods, the party (usually the employer) terminating the contract may be obliged to pay compensation. The Labour Law provides that where an employer employs more than ten employees, they must implement a disciplinary process.

The Labour Law (Art 61) sets out a list of ten prescribed circumstances under which the employer can terminate the worker's employment without notice or the payment

of End of Service Benefit (EOSB) due to the actions of the worker. The Labour Law also provides (Art 51) for various circumstances under which workers can terminate employment due to the actions of the employer, without notice but still remain entitled to receive EOSB if applicable.

The Labour Law (Art 54) provides, in addition to the other monies payable to workers when their employment terminate that workers must be paid an EOSB. As a minimum, EOSB must equal three weeks' (final) basic salary for each full year the worker has worked.

Exit permits

Workers are required to have an exit permit in order to leave Qatar. Following the implementation of the New Immigration Law, all exit permits are now issued on a multi-exit basis. Further, an employee has the right to exit the country during periods of annual leave, in emergency cases, prior to the expiry of the contract term or for any other reason provided the employer is notified according to the terms of the employment contract.

Where there is a dispute between the employer and employee as to issuing an exit permit, the dispute can be referred to the newly established expatriate exit grievances committee which consists of representatives of the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Interior and the National Human Rights Committee. The committee will hear representations from all parties, seek evidence, request documents and information, and liaise with different ministries and government departments. The expatriate exit grievances committee will decide on any appeal made to it within a period of three days.

If a worker wishes to leave Qatar while still holding a work permit, i.e. before a residence permit is issued, they must obtain a re-entry or return visa before leaving to avoid automatic cancellation of their work permit. Currently, there are tight restrictions on such visas being issued.

Note: This guide focuses on the Labour Law which is issued in Arabic, with no official translation.

Published in collaboration with L&E Global: an alliance of employers’ counsel worldwide

To view the full publication: An international guide to employment law across 28 countries, please click here.