Amnesty Report: Over 80 workers unpaid for a year; live in hunger in Qatar
- JustHere Qatar
- On December 18, 2013
Eighty low-income workers who were involved in the construction of two floors of Al Bidda tower that houses key football related organisations, have not been paid for nearly a year, despite the case being brought to the attention of Ministries of Interior and Labour, says Amnesty International.
In a report released today, to mark International Migrant’s Day, Amnesty International says the plight of over 80 migrant construction workers of Lee Trading and Contracting (LTC) is worsening by the day and they are without any means to buy food, and their conditions may amount to forced labour.
The group includes around 60 Nepali workers as well as those from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Nigeria, China and Bangladesh. They worked on the 38 and 39 floors of Al Bidda Tower, which according to Amnesty is “also called ‘Qatar’s Home of Football’ because of a number of offices of football-related organisations housed there.”
It has been reported that LTC owes the workers around QR1.5 million by way of salaries. However, no reasons have been stated by the company regarding the delayed payment. The project was completed in October 2013, and since then the workers have been stranded in their camp, without pay and facing severe shortages of food.
The dire state of these workers was made public last month, when an Amnesty team headed by Salil Shetty were in the city to present the findings of the report ‘The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup’.
“It is now one month since we visited these men and found them living in desperate conditions. But their ordeal has not ended,” said Shetty in a press statement. “They have not had been paid for nearly a year and can’t even buy food to sustain themselves on a day-to-day basis. They also can’t afford to send money back home to their families or to pay off debts.
“The Qatari government must step in now and end this crisis. The men have told us they simply want to collect the unpaid wages they are owed and to leave the country. The Ministries of Labour and Interior must deliver that as soon as possible. Doing so will signal that the government really means what it says about protecting workers’ rights.”
Failed legal attempts
According to Qatar’s Labour Law, workers are supposed to be exempted from paying judicial fees. However, when these workers attempted to file a case against LTC, the court ordered each to pay a fee of QR600 for an expert report to be commissioned into their case. Unless this is paid, the cases cannot progress.
“This case illustrates perfectly the massive obstacles migrant workers face to getting justice in Qatar. How can a worker who has not been paid for nearly a year afford such a sum of money?” says Shetty.
Kafala and forced labour
Qatar’s strict kafala system has also left them stranded, without an option of searching for another job. Nor have they been issued with valid residence permits which can even lead to them being arrested as per the Qatari law.
Some of the men have alleged that when they stopped work in August 2013, in protest at the lack of salaries, a representative of LTC threatened them with jail. The men said that they returned to work as a result.
The company representative in question has strongly denied this allegation to Amnesty International.
Under the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Forced Labour Convention, forcing the men to work under threat of imprisonment would constitute forced labour.
Living on debt and charity
The LTC employees are not being provided with food or food allowances and have no salaries to buy food. The company had been providing them 250 riyals per month as a food allowance but this stopped in October, the report states.
The workers are now being forced to borrow money to buy food. In mid-November several men complained to Amnesty International of hunger.
A representative of LTC told Amnesty International in November that the food allowance had stopped the previous month because, “at the end of the day, I’m not making any money out of this company”. Neither has the company paid to renew their identity cards.
“It is shameful to think that in one of the richest countries in the world, migrant workers are being left to go hungry. The Qatari authorities must take action immediately,” said Salil Shetty.
In late November, a small group of Doha residents had collected donations to provide temporary relief, in terms of food stuff and other essentials.
Those who visited the camp, vouch for the grim conditions that Amnesty highlights: “Some workers are sleeping on hard wooden boards without mattresses, and some of the temporary accommodation buildings are dangerously unstable; the floors and ceilings in one bedroom are close to collapsing.”
Instead of one court case, there are over 80 different ones
One of the residents said most of the men seemed particularly clueless about legal proceedings and have been to court upwards of three times. “Where will we go for 600 riyals when we can’t buy food,” one worker, told the volunteers.
Furthermore, each of the workers has to file a separate case, as it cannot be filed as a group. So each of them gets a different date for court hearing. Since most of them cannot speak English, they are very much at the mercy of the court translator to put across their stilted English pleas in Arabic.
According to a Qatar-based lawyer, the case cannot be fought together by a group of workers as it would be tantamount to forming a union, and that is illegal as per Qatar law. Which is why human rights organisations, have also been stressing the need to allow workers’ unions.
While most of these workers are keen to collect their dues and leave the country, for some it’s not that simple.
In a cramped room at the camp are a group of youngsters from war-torn areas of Sri Lanka. One of them told a volunteers who was distributing food stuff: “Our homes are only now being rebuilt there, and we need to work here and send money back, we can’t survive like this. Our families can’t. And we don’t have much to go back to, either.”
Photo on home page: Screen grab from the video of Amnesty’s visit to the camp last month; this shows the Al Bidda tower.
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