DOHA // Qatar is considering ending the oft-criticised sponsorship system, under which employers sponsor foreign workers and have a great deal of control over them, the prime minister said on Thursday.
"Changes have been made to the sponsorship system in Qatar," and the council of ministers is "seriously studying" abolishing the system, Sheikh Hamad told reporters.
"We are studying the issue very carefully to preserve the rights of citizens and foreign workers," he added.
Sponsorship systems for foreign workers exist in most Gulf countries, which employ millions of foreigners, especially from Asia. The system has been strongly criticised by rights groups and likened to modern-day slavery.
In some cases, employers hold workers' passports and can deny them permission to change jobs.
Bahrain abolished the system in 2009, and Kuwait reportedly plans to do so by February.
Sheikh Hamad also said on Thursday that Qatar was not yet ready to hold its first partial parliamentary elections, which have been promised for several years.
"The legislative elections will be held one day ... We have fallen behind in completing various laws, of which three quarters have been adopted," he said.
The principle of a partly elected parliament was enshrined in the Gulf state's constitution which came into force in 2005.
Two-thirds of the 45 members of the Majlis al-Shura (consultative assembly) would be selected by universal suffrage, with the other 15 appointed by the emir, according to an electoral law adopted in 2008.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the only states in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council that have not held legislative elections, although municipal elections have been held in both countries.
Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman have held direct parliamentary elections, while the United Arab Emirates at the end of 2006 held partial elections by indirect voting for members of the National Federal Council.