The shocking plight of migrant workers in Qatar, forming the backbone of the country's economy, has once again been brought to the fore in a stinging report by New York-based non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), released yesterday.
The 78-page report, 'How can we work without wages?: Salary abuses facing migrant workers ahead of Qatar's FIFA World Cup 2022,' shows that employers across Qatar frequently violate workers' right to wages. Further, Qatar has failed to meet its 2017 commitment to the International Labor Organization (ILO) to protect migrant workers from wage abuses and to abolish the kafala system, which ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers.
"Wage abuses have been further exacerbated since Covid-19. Some employers used the pandemic as pretext to withhold wages or refuse to pay outstanding wages to workers who are detained and forcibly repatriated. Some workers said they could not even afford to buy food. Others said they went into debt to survive," the <a href="https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/08/24/how-can-we-work-without-wages/salary-abuses-facing-migrant-workers-ahead-qatars#_ftn95">report</a> revealed.
It is not for the first time that widespread wage abuse and pathetic treatment of the migrant workforce has been reported from Qatar. Several human rights organizations have over the last many years written about the Arab state not meeting the international labor standards.
Human Rights Watch found case after case of wage abuse across various occupations including security guards, servers, baristas, bouncers, cleaners, management staff, and construction workers.
"Ten years since Qatar won the right to host the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup 2022, migrant workers are still facing delayed, unpaid, and deducted wages. We have heard of workers starving due to delayed wages, indebted workers toiling in Qatar only to get underpaid wages, and workers trapped in abusive working conditions due to fear of retaliation," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.<img class="wp-image-10485 size-large" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/202008mena_qatar_migrant_4_Redacted-553×1024.jpg" alt="" width="553" height="1024" /> Photograph of text messages sent from a migrant worker to his employer, reminding him about 6 months of unpaid salaries, working without pay, and not having money for food. The employer did not respond to phone calls or text messages for the next two months (Photo courtesy: Maham Javaid/Human Rights Watch)
Qatari authorities' efforts to protect migrant workers' right to accurate and timely wages have largely proven unsuccessful as HRW, which interviewed more than 93 migrant workers working for more than 60 companies or employers, mentioned how wage abuses are persistent and widespread across at least 60 employers and companies in Qatar.
A 38-year-old human resources manager at a construction company in Qatar, which has a contract to work on the external part of a stadium for the World Cup, said that his monthly salary was delayed for up to four months at least five times in 2018 and 2019. "I am affected because due to the delayed salary, I am late in my credit card payments, rent, and children’s school fees," he said. "Even right now my salary is two months delayed… It is the same story for all the staff on my level and even the laborers."
Last year, a similar research done by Amnesty International, had revealed the plight of hundreds of migrant workers.
'All work, no pay: The struggle of Qatar’s migrant workers for justice' highlighted how hundreds of migrant workers employed by three construction and cleaning companies have given up on justice and returned home penniless. This is despite the Qatari authorities having established new committees intended to rapidly resolve labor disputes, as part of reforms agreed ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
"Despite the significant promises of reform which Qatar has made ahead of the 2022 World Cup, it remains a playground for unscrupulous employers. Migrant workers often go to Qatar in the hope of giving their families a better life; instead many people return home penniless after spending months chasing their wages, with too little help from the systems that are supposed to protect them," said Amnesty International's Deputy Director of Global Issues, Stephen Cockburn.<img class="wp-image-10490 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/9a3e81b5d10c9104b80757f553c2f7f1.jpg" alt="" width="682" height="419" /> A football stadium built in Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup (IANS)
The workers come majorly from countries like India, Nepal, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Kenya, and Uganda to seek better income opportunities.
The <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/09/qatar-despite-reform-promises-migrant-workers-still-return-home-without-wages-or-justice/">report</a> highlighted the case of a man named Bijoy from India who had waited three months before even getting a date for a hearing—by which time he had decided to return home because his father was sick and in hospital. Instead of trying to recover the more than 13,000 Qatari riyals ($3,750) he was owed by Hamton International, Bijoy had no option but to accept just 1,000 riyals ($275) and his ticket back to India.
“I begged the Chairman's brother to give me even 4,000 riyals (around US$1,100) He gave me 1,000 (around US$275) and my flight… I have to forget the money and go… I am forgetting this because I want to see my father," Bijoy had told Amnesty International.
Human Rights Watch found that the kafala system was one of the factors facilitating abuse. In 2017, Qatar promised to abolish the kafala system, and while the introduction of some measures has chipped away at it, the system still grants employers unchecked power and control over migrant workers.
The NGO sent the findings of the report along with queries to Qatar's Labor Ministry and Interior Ministry, as well as FIFA and Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy but did not receive any responses.
"Qatar has two years left before players kick the first ball at the FIFA World Cup," Page said. "The clock is running out and Qatar needs to show that it will live up to its promise to abolish the kafala system, improve its salary monitoring systems, speed up its redress mechanisms, and adopt additional measures to tackle wage abuse.".