Labourers working on construction site of al-Wakrah football stadium in Doha
Doha - Arab Today
Qatar conceded Monday that "much more needs to be done" on the controversial issue of labour reform following fresh criticism of the 2022 World Cup hosts over the pace of change.
A statement from the newly established Qatar Government Communications Office also reaffirmed Doha's committment to scrapping the controversial "kafala" system by the end of 2015.
"Measurable progress has been made with regard to labour practices in Qatar, but much more needs to be done," the statement read.
It added: "As we have always stated, the people of Qatar are deeply grateful to those who have come from foreign lands to help us build our nation. Their labour rights -- and their human rights -- should be, must be, and will be respected."
Last week, fresh doubt was thrown on Qatar's commitment to reform its much-criticised labour laws after the intervention of the consultative Shura Council.
The council, which reviews legislation, said a draft law on "kafala", which limits the rights of movement for foreign workers, could not yet be introduced and needed further examination.
It wants to keep a two-year ban on issuing new papers to expat workers who leave Qatar after the cancellation of their work visa.
And it called for a new provision that any foreign worker who deliberately creates problems for employers should not be allowed to change jobs and face their contract being doubled in length as punishment.
Monday's statement, however, said that the prime minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani, met members of the Shura Council on Sunday and reform would go ahead.
"The Council of Ministers will now prepare the final draft of the kafala reform legislation, which is expected to be completed before the end of 2015."
The council of ministers is Qatar's supreme executive authority.
Earlier this year, the minister of labour and social affairs, Abdullah bin Saleh al-Khulaifi, said he was "90 percent" certain the "kafala" system would be replaced by new legislation by the end of this year.
However, last week's comments from the Shura Council prompted fresh criticism of Qatar -- already under intense scrutiny over how it won the right to host the 2022 tournament, which is the subject of a Swiss corruption investigation -- with claims that it was not committed to labour reform.
- 'Forced labour' -
Human Rights Watch's Gulf Researcher Nicholas McGeehan said the statement appeared to be trying to "offset some of the damage" caused last week.
"The statement is very scanty on detail," he said.
"They don't address any of the alarming comments attributed to the Shura Council, notably the recommendation on troublesome workers. That's a recommendation for forced labour."
McGeehan said that hopes the new laws would be on the books by the end of this year were in doubt.
"I think it (deadline) is more than slipping. I don't think there's any chance whatsoever that we will see an announcement in 2015."
Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Conference, said Qatar "should abolish the kafala system of modern slavery instead of promising yet again to make cosmetic reforms".
Doha added that change would extend beyond "kafala" and could include attempts to clamp down on recruitment agents who bring in workers from abroad for relatively well-paid jobs, but charge them huge fees, Monday's statement said.
The government also said that foreign workers in Qatar, currently estimated to number around 1.6 million, sent home $14 billion (12 billion euros) last year.