The rules governing the employment of individuals working in Qatar are principally governed by Law No (14) of 2004 (Labour Law). The Labour Department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is the main agency of administration. The Labour Law excludes the workers of Qatar Petroleum and its corporate establishments whose employment is governed by special laws; it also excludes Government/ public workers whose employment is governed by the provisions of Law No (8) of 2009 (Human Resources Law). In addition, members of the armed forces, the Police, workers at sea, casual, domestic and agricultural workers and dependants are excluded from the Labour Law. The Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) and the Qatar Science and Technology Park also both have their own employment regulations.
This guide will focus on the Labour Law which is issued in Arabic with no official translation.
Issues arising on hiring individuals
Immigration rules in Qatar are covered by Law No (4) of 2009 (Immigration Law) which sets out regulations under which expatriates may enter, exit, work and reside in Qatar. The Immigration Department of the Ministry of Interior is the main agency of administration. The Immigration Law defines an expatriate as any individual entering Qatar who is not a Qatari national. Unless an individual is a Gulf Cooperation Council national, they must be sponsored 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 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 Qatar Embassy websites.
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 worker’s sponsor. Sponsorship 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 the Qatari entity wants to employ. Once the block visa application has been approved by the Labour Department, passport copies and education certificates if appropriate should be submitted to the Immigration Department in order for each worker to be issued with their work permit; then the employer can proceed to apply for the worker’s residency once they have been relocated to Qatar at the expense of the worker’s sponsor. Dual residency is permitted by discretion in Qatar. The process followed by Qatari nationals to sponsor expatriates is slightly different.
Where workers hold a valid Qatari residence permit they can apply to sponsor 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 a manager or an individual with a degree certificate earning at least QAR 10,000 per month (some USD 2,700).
Holders of residence permits may work but only for their sponsors. 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, work permits to work, subject to some exceptions, e.g. the QFC. Part-time workers can work, subject to the permission of their sponsor/employer, for a Qatari national or an entity registered to undertake business in Qatar; there is no concept of part-time work referred to in the Labour Law itself.
Penalties can be imposed by the Ministry of Interior in relation to breaches of the Immigration Law. These penalties can be onerous, e.g. up to three years in prison and a fine of up to QAR 50,000. The penalties may be levied against any or all pertinent parties.
It is important to note that there are laws and regulations in place to encourage the employment of 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 self-imposed quotas, e.g. Qatar Foundation, but otherwise the Labour Department will review new block visa applications on an application by application basis.
While they reside in Qatar, the worker’s sponsor will be legally responsible for them, including obtaining and renewing residence permits and associated registrations.
The worker’s sponsor will not be liable financially for any of the obligations of the individuals it sponsors unless it specifically agrees to guarantee such obligations, e.g. in a salary letter addressed to a bank for the purposes of a worker obtaining a car loan.
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 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, 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 been employed.
Issues arising during the employment relationship
Wages, annual leave and working time
There is 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.
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 at least three weeks’ paid annual leave and those who have been in service for over five years will be entitled to at least four weeks’ paid annual leave.
A Muslim worker is entitled to Haj 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, set according to whether overtime is completed on a normal working day, a Friday, during night time or on a public holiday. A worker’s actual working hours should not exceed ten hours a day if overtime is worked.
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.
The Labour Law states that female workers must be paid the same wage as male workers if they undertake the same work. Provisions are also made in relation to vocational workers and minors.
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 under certain circumstances, but amongst other things, the exercise of political or religious activities, the printing and dissemination of materials insulting the State, etc. is prohibited. Workers’ committees should publish their policies and regulations according to certain guidelines.
There is currently no public social security scheme or any retirement pension applicable to non-Qatari workers. However, for Qatar 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.
A new health insurance scheme was enacted through issuance of Law No (7) of 2013 under the terms of which sponsors will be responsible to contribute to their employee’s health care. The regulations associated with this law have recently been issued, but details concerning premiums etc. are still being settled. Qatari and non-Qatari nationals will be the subject of this new scheme. There are no obligatory insurances other than the new health insurance referred to above. However, some employers may contractually offer workers benefits such as life assurance, permanent health insurance, private medical insurance and company cars.
Issues arising on termination of employment relationship
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 provides that it will conclude because of the death or otherwise.
Residency may be transferred between sponsors, subject to the discretion of the Immigration Department. In order to transfer sponsorship, an individual must hold a residence permit which has been valid for more than 12 months, a sponsor’s letter of no objection (NOC) and a “clean” Police Report. Where no NOC is provided (there is no obligation to provide one) an individual may not work in Qatar, i.e. be sponsored and employed in Qatar, for a period of two years, although appeals can be made to the Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Interior. Where individuals do not have a residence permit which has been valid for more than 12 months, provided they hold an NOC, they must leave Qatar and re-enter on either an on-arrival or business visa or a work permit in order for their new sponsors to be in a position to apply for a residence permit for them.
Under the Labour Law, if the service contract is for 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 their dues for the notice period if the worker continues to work normally during this period. If the contract is terminated without observing the notice period, the party (usually the employer) terminating the contract may be obliged to pay compensation. The Labour Law provides for employers of more than ten employees to implement a disciplinary process and sets out the minimum requirements.
The Labour Law (Art 61) sets out a list of circumstances under which the employer can terminate the worker’s employment without notice or the payment of an End of Service Benefit (EOSB) due to the actions of the worker. The Labour Law also provides (Art 51) for a similar action under which workers can terminate without notice but still receive EOSB if applicable.
The Labour Law (Art 54) provides, in addition to the other monies payable to workers when their employment terminates, that workers must be paid an EOSB. As a minimum, it must equal three weeks’ basic salary for each full year the worker has worked; part years are calculated pro rata and an EOSB is only payable once the worker has completed one full year of employment. The EOSB cannot be contracted out of or waived.
Workers require an exit permit to leave Qatar. Exit permits can be issued for a single exit; the holders of residence permits may be issued with multi-exit visas at the sponsor’s discretion. 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.