The office meets one need of the complaints process, but several barriers remain
A new office to implement the rulings in labour cases has been established in Qatar, jointly by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs (MADLSA) and the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC). This office follows a memorandum of understanding between the two in 2019.
According to the State news agency, QNA, the office will be located in the Labor Disputes Settlement Committees at the Ministry’s headquarters in Al-Huda Tower, in Doha’s West Bay area.
The statement, carried by local media, says:
This step aims to facilitate judicial transactions for workers and accomplish them in a short time and in the same place. It is also a first step of a series of subsequent procedures, as the system of labour complaints will be linked to the court system, and seeks to accelerate the automatic registration of the implementation of rulings on cases and the registration of the appeal, in addition to speeding implementation of labour judgments and decisions issued by the committees both in terms of implementing seizure of property and assets against companies electronically, and through a direct electronic link between the relevant government agencies, including the ministries of the interior, justice, commerce and industry.
These efforts are a first phase of the development plans to organize joint procedures between the two parties in an effort to achieve measures at a high level of efficiency and meaningful accuracy to facilitate procedures for litigants and provide support to all workers in the country.
Step in the right direction
Access to justice in Qatar has many barriers, and the workers who manage to file a case and see it through to a final judgement are just a small minority. However, even for them, a favourable ruling (which is often the case) does not mean money in their hands. The staff of HKH Contraction Company, for instance, still await their full dues despite a court ruling in their favour about 18 months ago. Currently, the process involves the employer depositing the amount as per the ruling in the finance department of the court, after which the court pays the workers. This office should go a long way in fixing this issue.
However, some of the other barriers to justice remain unaddressed or, at best, addressed but poorly implemented. Some of these barriers include:
- The offices to receive preliminary complaints do not have personnel with requisite language skills to aid workers. This means, complainants often depend on inaccurate or partial information from peers and support staff at these centres, like guards, catering staff or assistants.
- Workers who file complaints are threatened with eviction and lack of food by their employers.
- Employers also file false absconding cases against the workers who lodge complaints. This immediately becomes a criminal case involving the Ministry of Interior, and the MADLSA cannot exercise much influence over these proceedings.
- Lack of shelters or halfway homes makes it difficult for workers to stay back and fight. Once they take on their employers they are likely to become destitute, unless there is a support network of friends or family they can depend on.
- This raises the issue of the lack of independent civil society groups and legal aid centres, that would go a long way in making access to justice possible. Some regional best practices can be found in Kuwait and Bahrain.
- Qatar does not allow class-action suits, making it cumbersome for workers who may be part of a large group to file individual complaints, and also increases the workload of the court.
Accordingly, MR recommends that Qatar should:
- Allow more space for independent civil society, who can both act as watchdogs and help workers in distress.
- Permit legal aid centres, and encouraging local firms to provide pro-bono services, will ease the stress on workers.
- Ensure complaints centres are better resourced, with language skill given priority.
- Immediately open the long-promised shelters for workers in distress.
- Proactively investigate cases of non-payment, wage theft and other abuses. If only a few workers from a company have raised a complaint, it is likely that there are several more in a similar situation with the company.
- Allow for class-action suits, where a cluster from a single case can file one united case or complaint.