Qatar said Thursday it would introduce a major labour law reform to ensure thousands of workers building venues for the 2022 World Cup are paid on time, after complaints by rights groups.
The changes by the future hosts of football's biggest tournament, approved by Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will see workers get paid at least once a month and in some cases every fortnight.
The move, which will apply to all workers, could head off some criticism of Qatar following mounting international pressure to improve conditions for migrant labourers working on projects for the World Cup.
The announcement comes with the international spotlight set to fall on Qatar again as FIFA officials visit Doha early next week to finalise a date for the controversial tournament.
Under the proposal, wages will be paid through direct bank transfers which should, in theory, make it easier to track those employers that do not comply with the new law.
It is not yet clear when the reforms will be introduced but employers will have six months to implement them.
If they do not, they could face up to one month in prison as well as a fine of up to 6,000 Qatari riyals ($1,650, 1,440 euros).
Non-payment of migrant workers, especially those in the construction sector, has become a sensitive issue for Qatar.
Last November, Amnesty International accused the government in Doha of not doing enough on the issue of non-payment despite intense scrutiny after Qatar was awarded the World Cup.
A lack of progress on the issue was highlighted earlier this year by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
- 'Avoiding the core problem?' -
HRW researcher Nicholas McGeehan gave a cautious welcome to the changes announced in Doha.
"It is a positive step as long as it is properly enforced," he told AFP.
He said the reform would affect a "very substantial number of workers" across the Qatari economy, not just those in construction.
Amnesty International's Mustafa Qadri described the plan as "a welcome development", but urged Qatar to ensure it is properly implemented and to go even further.
"These should be seen as the beginning of the reforms, not the end," he said.
A 2013 academic study, "A Portrait of Low-Income Migrants in Contemporary Qatar", found that 21 percent of migrant workers in Qatar "received their salary on time only sometimes, rarely, or never".
However, there was some disappointment that the changes announced did not address the controversial "kafala" sponsorship system, which rights groups and global football union FIFPro have urged Qatar to abolish.
This enables employers to prevent foreign workers from leaving the country or changing jobs and has been likened to modern-day slavery.
"That's a concern," said McGeehan. "Why is this area changing first? Are they working around the edges and avoiding the core problem?"
Other areas where campaigners have called for change include the confiscation of passports by employers, workers not being issued an exit visa so they can leave Qatar, and migrant labourers having to pay recruitment fees.
Qadri said there was a concern that these may be neglected and Qatar "may just focus on easier issues".
The Gulf state, which sits on the world's third-largest gas reserves, is seeking to become a global leader in sporting events.
It hosted the handball World Cup last month and is expected to bid for the Summer Olympics.