Nepali migrants among unpaid workers for months at a FIFA World Cup stadium in QatarAmnesty International says around 100 workers have worked for up to seven months without pay are still waiting to be paid their full dues.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
Dozens of migrant workers from several countries, including Nepal, working for a construction project for a FIFA World Cup stadium in Qatar have remained unpaid for months, an Amnesty International investigation has revealed
Around 100 employees of Qatar Meta Coats (QMC), a design and construction company subcontracted for façade works on the 770 million-euro Al Bayt Stadium, have worked for up to seven months without pay and are still waiting to be paid their full dues, according to the rights group.
“Migrant workers told us about the hardship they endured having worked without pay on Al Bayt Stadium for months on end. They are worried about their families, who rely on the money they send home from Qatar to pay school fees and medical bills,” Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International, was quoted as saying in the Amnesty’s statement on Thursday.
“This case is the latest damning illustration of how easy it still is to exploit workers in Qatar, even when they are building one of the crown jewels of the World Cup. For years we have been urging Qatar to reform the system, but clearly change has not come fast enough.”
According to the rights group, this week, after it raised the case with the Qatari authorities, FIFA, and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, Qatar’s World Cup organizing body, some workers began to receive part of what they are owed, but still have outstanding unpaid salaries.
“Although recent payments will provide some welcome relief for workers, Qatar’s World Cup organizers told us they had known about the salary delays since July 2019,” said Cockburn. “This raises the question of why Qatar allowed workers to continue working for months without pay. It shouldn’t take an Amnesty investigation for workers to be paid what they are owed.”
This is not the first time exploitation of migrant workers working on world cup building projects in Qatar has come to the fore.
Nepali workers have also been facing similar exploitations in the past when they have remained without payment and living under unsafe and appalling conditions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has further worsened their conditions as after several reports have called Qatar a ‘coronavirus prison’ of Covid-19 and workers are trapped inside their camps with higher chances of infections.
In mid-April, Amnesty International had also accused the Qatari authorities of using the global pandemic as a cover to expel over 400 Nepali workers illegally.
The human rights lobby group Amnesty International interviewed current and former employees of QMC and reviewed court records and contracts. The workers said salary delays had affected all employees working on Al Bayt, estimating this to be around 100 migrant workers from Ghana, Kenya, Nepal and the Philippines, among others.
According to them, payment delays had begun in early 2019 and the situation further deteriorated into 2020. Amnesty International found out that many migrants received no salary at all for their work between September 2019 and the end of March 2020, though some salaries stopped as early as August, but QMC repeatedly assured workers their money was coming but never fully delivered on their promises.
In January 2020, fed up with the company’s repeated promises, some workers submitted complaints to Qatar’s Labour tribunals. During mediation sessions, QMC representatives agreed to settle some claims but didn’t follow through. The company told other workers that they would be paid only if they agreed to end their contracts early and go home, according to Amnesty International.
According to the statement, several workers told Amnesty they were stopped from coming to work, apparently in retaliation for going to the courts or for refusing to end their contracts early.
“The company has so much advantage over workers that you regret going to the court. Whatever the company decides, Qatar favours them. Workers are suffering because the companies rule,” a worker is quoted as saying in the statement who has been identified with a given name of Kiran to protect his privacy.
By the end of February 2020, the employer QMC had pulled all remaining employees off the stadium and asked them to report to its factory. These workers continued to work there without pay until March 22 before it was closed due to the pandemic.
“After Amnesty International exchanged detailed correspondence with the Supreme Committee and other key actors who have known of the persistent abuse for nearly a year, the Supreme Committee informed Amnesty that workers would start to be paid imminently,” said Amnesty.
Workers, on June 7, confirmed to Amnesty that some of them had received part of what they are owed. However, they confirmed that not everyone had received payment, while even those that received were not paid the full amounts.
Amnesty also found that these workers were denied documentation that most now have expired residence permits because QMC has failed for months to renew them. Likewise, workers employed with the QMC had paid large fees to get a job in Qatar, which is prohibited by Qatar’s Labour Law.
Those interviewed by Amnesty team said they paid amounts ranging from $900 to $2,000 USD to recruitment agents in their home countries. Many workers like Kiran, had to take out loans to cover these fees and now find themselves struggling to provide for their families.
Kiran said he could not go home yet or pay his younger siblings’ school fees because he had incurred large debts coming to work for QMC in Qatar.
“The future was not looking good for me before I came to Qatar… I was unemployed and couldn’t find a job in my home country,” Kiran told the Amnesty team. “I am the only person taking care of my parents and siblings, and I thought coming to Qatar would make things better for all of us. But sadly, things didn’t work out as I expected.”
Amnesty International said QMC acknowledged the payment delays due to financial difficulties and said it was trying to resolve them.
According to Amnesty, FIFA said that it contacted the Supreme Committee once it became aware of the case following Amnesty’s investigation, and is now working with its partners in Qatar to ensure that all outstanding salaries are paid without further delay. However, it remains unclear why FIFA was unaware of abuses at Al Bayt Stadium until May 2020.
The Amnesty International has said that the football governing body must step up to stop such exploitation of migrant workers on world cup building projects.
“Meanwhile, the fact that FIFA has been unaware of the plight of workers at one of its World Cup stadiums for so long shows it is still failing to take human rights abuses linked to the Qatar 2022 World Cup seriously enough,” reads the statement.
The rights group demanded that QMC and its World Cup partners pay workers every penny they are owed and also ensure they have valid legal documents and are reimbursed any fees they paid to secure their jobs in QMC.
“If, over the past 10 years, FIFA had held its World Cup partners to account, and used its clout to push Qatar to fully reform its systems, we wouldn’t be hearing the same tales of workers’ suffering with only two and half years until kick-off,” said Cockburn.