Taxi drivers: Taken for a ride; Contracts violated
JustHere spoke to drivers from Kenya and Nepal employed by Mowasalat and Al Million, who allege that the company not only changed the contract they were promised in their home countries, but they now continue to violate the contract given to them in Qatar. One of the recruiting agencies accepts that there were violations, but insists it has since been sorted out. A claim the drivers do not accept.
Eighteen months ago, Joseph* was sitting in a room in Magtech Inspiration recruitment agency in Nairobi, Kenya. He was promised a dream – a video showed the accommodation he would be provided in Doha, complete with swimming pool and plush rooms; the contract said he would be paid QR4,500 a month for six months, after which he would be on a rental contract.
Having paid a recruitment fee of Kenyan shillings 95,000 (QAR 4,000), Joseph moved to Qatar in the hope of a brighter future, leaving his wife and two kids behind.
What follows is the textbook interpretation of one of the key issues Amnesty International wrote about in its report on Qatar. Employees – mainly low-income – travel to Qatar based on a contract they signed in their home countries, but realise on arrival that the terms of the contract on ground is drastically scaled down.
“False promises” are not limited to the construction sector. JustHere met Joseph and his colleagues, all taxi drivers with either Mowasalat or its franchisee Al Million –the first taxi franchise operator in the country that runs the fleet of maroon-topped taxis.
When he and other Kenyan drivers arrived in Qatar, they were shown an accommodation in Shahaniya, which was not good, he says. When the drivers refused to stay there, they were brought to the current Industrial Area location (Street No. 39). Since all the drivers could not be accommodated here, some of the drivers were lodged at Street No. 46 in the Industrial Area, and the conditions were equally bad. When they complained again, they were told: “You have to either stay here, or you can go home.”
Furthermore, the new contract that was handed over to Joseph stated his salary as QR1,200 – less than a third of what was promised to him. And that amount would be given for only the first three months. When he raised the issue of drastic reduction, he was told by his employer: “Do you think you can come to a foreign country just like that…?”
Joseph didn’t have a copy of the contract he had signed in Kenya. “I had asked for that but the agent said they had to send it over to Qatar for visa processing. On arriving here, I asked for the contract again and they said they left it in Kenya.”
Even a copy of the contract signed in Doha was not given to him. As per this employment contract at Al Million, a driver gets paid a monthly salary of QR1,200 for the first three months. After that, he will be assigned as a “rental driver”. This means, he rents the taxi from the company for either 12 hours or 24 hours. For a 12-hour shift, he would have to pay the company QR265 daily for a day shift, and QR165 for a night shift. For a 24-hour shift, he would have to pay QR300 per day.
As a rental driver, he doesn’t receive a monthly wage. His wage is what he earns at the end of the day from customers, minus the amount he has to cough up to the company, and the money that goes for fuel. “If we don’t make that much each day, we end up paying from our pockets,” says Joseph.
“Baladiya doesn’t check this (accommodation). Instead, they closed down the grocery stores in the neighbourhood. It’s so difficult to search for cheap places to buy food from.”
However, this ‘arrangement’ is never mentioned in the contract that these drivers sign back home. When Gagan*, a Nepali national, applied for this job through the Sunghawa Manpower Agency back home, the contract mentioned his monthly salary as QR1,200. However, he was never informed about the rental system of the company.
“I read that only when I signed the contract here. I enquired a lot, but never got a clear answer. I remember when I was reading the contract back home, I wanted a few clauses to be explained. But the agent said you don’t have to read, it’s a good company. And made me sign the papers.”
Another Kenyan national, Ricky* too was promised a job that would pay QR4,500, but on arrival received a Qatar contract that promised only QR1200. But having failed the driving test twice, the company assigned him the job of a mechanic at the garage, with a salary of QR1,000. “I applied for a driving class again, with my money, and passed the test this time. But the company refuses to give me a license, saying that my Qatar ID is not ready,” he says.
The driver’s Qatar ID had expired, three months ago and as there is a delay in its renewal, he is unable to get the license.
Payment structure; Pay slips without pay
The drivers who spoke to JustHere say they did not receive the QR1200 promised till they got their license. They were paid between QR555-QR800 till then, that too not on time, some even after 45-55 days.
Gagan had a GCC driving license, but was handed over a Karwa driving license only after four months. The reason he was told was that there was a delay in getting his Qatar ID. “I don’t think it takes four months to get a Qatar ID.”
There are many still without a Qatar ID for months, without which sending money back home becomes a major problem.
Again, once they receive QR1,200, about QR245 is deducted for food and housing allowance. Once they go ‘rental’, they are given only QR150 per month as food allowance.
“…they take just four days to deport you, but if you want to fly back home for vacation, they take up to 20 days to give you a release letter.”
“If you take a day off, you are fined QR100,” said a driver. There’s no medical coverage provided as well. Interestingly, Joshua* who works directly for Mowasalat says, though his contract is now on ‘rental’ basis, he continued to receive an electronic pay slip every month. The company has refused to give an explanation for this, to him. JustHere has copies of the pay slip, but to protect identity of the drivers will not publish it.
“We are made to pay for fines or accidents even if it’s not our fault. On my first day of work I broke the signal. I was new to Doha, hence unfamiliar about the roads and signals. I was fined QR6,000. I pleaded with the police saying that I was new and pardon me for the first time. They didn’t listen, nor did my company help,” said another driver.
“The company cars are insured, yet we are charged by the company for accidents. Sometimes as high as QR5,000. Even the police wouldn’t charge us that much.” Compared to Al Million, Al Ijarah – the second taxi franchise operator running the blue-roofed Karwa cabs – have a better pay system, according to the drivers we spoke to.
In a bid to find more customers and earn money, many drivers have had sleepless nights, plying the roads in search of customers. “We are fatigued. Even a machine shuts down if it has been running for long. We are humans. But if we take a day’s rest, it means paying QR100 as fine,” says Joseph.
It’s not surprising then why many of them also resort to turning off the meter or adjusting the meter to a higher tariff, that residents have often complained about.
Squalid living conditions add to their woes
Lodged at Street No. 39 of Industrial Area, the accommodation provided to these drivers is appalling. Eight people crammed into one room, with four bunk beds. “The bed bugs are killing us,” says Joseph. There’s one common toilet area outside, but there’s no shower area. “The flush doesn’t work. It’s so filthy,” say the drivers.
[Photography: Kenneth Ta-asan]
One of the drivers had slipped on the wet floor of the toilet and severely injured his foot. He had to undergo surgery. “It’s been four months now, and he still hasn’t recovered fully to drive the taxi. Since he’s on rental, he doesn’t even make money now. But yet the company isn’t letting him go back home,” says Gagan.
There was recently an inspection conducted at the accommodation, but the company officials locked the toilet and kitchen rooms, and referred to them as “store rooms”. “Baladiya doesn’t check this. Instead, they closed down the grocery stores in the neighbourhood. It’s so difficult to search for cheap places to buy food from,” said one of them.
Attempts to complain to their respective embassies have remained futile. In the past, drivers have been deported for doing so. “It’s funny how they take just four days to deport you, but if you want to fly back home for vacation, they take up to 20 days to give you a release letter,” says Joseph. The drivers have gone on strike several times, but are silenced with the threat of deportation.
It’s a two-year contact that drivers are bound to. Despite harsh times, many of them continue to work only to recover the amount they lost as “recruitment fees”.
Margaret Ikuah, Business Development Director, Magtech responded to JustHere queries, and the drivers’ allegations.
“We have recruited a number of Kenyan drivers for different taxi company in Doha. The taxi company that showed a clip of the company, working conditions to the candidates was Al million Taxi as the HR manager interviewed all the candidates from Kenya. After deployment of candidates, there were some complains (sic). We forwarded the complains to the company and they promised to move the drivers to their new accommodation which they did. The group was shifted early this year. We also involved the Kenya Embassy who arbitrated the grievance until all was sorted out.”
Ikuah says that they have not received any further complaints. As for the contract, she says Al Million HR had explained everything to the candidates, including the offer of QR1200, and the rental system after three months.
The drivers maintain that this is not true.
JustHere has written to Mowasalat and Al Million seeking response on these allegations by the taxi drivers. A HR officer at Al Million said he was not authorised to respond and forwarded the query to his superiors at work.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.
[Header image courtesy: Lawrence Wang, Flickr]