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October 4th, 2013
07:56 AM ET

Is Qatar abusing migrant workers?

Qatar's new World Cup facilities will be constructed by thousands of migrant laborers toiling in extreme heat.

And human rights groups say that many already working in the country are being severely mistreated.

Gulf migrant researcher for Amnesty International James Lynch tells me the exploitation of workers in Qatar is far too commonplace.

"We've met workers who have been in severe distress having not been paid for months at at time, not able to leave the country, and living in dire conditions," he says.

"And add to that the very long working hours that go beyond the legal limits and the exterme heat as well."

The head of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee tells CNN the country is committed to workers' safety.

But Hassan al-Thawadi also acknowledged that it takes time to develop and enforce labor rights laws in Qatar.

International scrutiny is growing and the pressure is on. Both Qatar and FIFA, which is currently holding an executive crisis meeting on the 2022 World Cup, are being urged to act.

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. guiseppe

    While the plight of workers building infrastructure for the FIFA world Cup in Qatar is sad the fact is FIFA already awarded it with doing their due diligence it will be hard to change. WE do have an opportunity to not make the same mistake by awarding a world event such to other countries bidding for the 2020 EXPO. Dubai is exactly the same as Qatar in their concern for the workers. The people who award the Expo bids should consider this before they make the same mistake in Dubai or for that matter any of the other bidders. This is a reason the bidders can afford to do things as grand as they promise. They do it on the back of the migrants. Send the message now.

    I won't be attending the Expo for this reason if Dubai is awarded the EXPO in 2020

    October 6, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Reply
  2. John Delirious

    I'm an expat who has lived and worked in Qatar for almost 10 years now, until I was let go recently due to nationalization. Towards my last year with them, I was put under a subtle tactical pressure and eventually I had to quit my job. It has been more than 6 months now that I haven't found another job in Qatar despite my stellar qualifications. So I have decided to leave the country for good.

    During my employment by a local government office here, I had the privilege of having a front-row seat and observed that the hiring priorities of white-collar jobs in both government and private sectors are given to expats in this order of nationality. They believe and strongly support Qatar Vision 2030 of Qatarization which is 100% local employment engagement. Sometimes they try to fit in a local candidate by offering the job even if the person is under qualified compared to the expats pool, and yet still pay the same salary.

    In some exceptions, it goes down to the next level if no candidate is available. First & top tier level, they give preference to the Qataris; 2nd, to the members of the GCC (Saudi, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Oman) or the oil-rich countries in the region; 3rd, to the Muslims and Arabic-speaking expats of the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa such as Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Djibouti, Tunisia, Sudan (some of whom have been found to have oil and gas in their backyard as well); 4th, to the Muslims and Arabic-speaking expats in their nearby bordering countries (Syria, Lebanon, Turkey); 5th, to the westerns (British, EU, Americans); 6th and the bottom tier, the Muslims and Arab-speaking SE Asians expats (India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Nepal and all other countries). Their reasoning is that so much is at stake to give the jobs to the Westerners and the Asians.

    Both the locals I have worked with in the government office have certain work-related privileges. They believe this is their country and it’s sort of their birth right. Many of them either come to work late or leave the office before the official closing time. They take long lunches. Some of them will clock-in the morning, disappear during the day, and will return only to clock-out. The locals, especially some directors and managers, save their time and energy for personal things and let the expats do the work for them while they are away; while the local staff are not doing any work and they get away with it. I have known a local director who would approve leave with pay for his department but the days for not showing up for work were neither reported to HR nor deducted from the staff leave balance. There’s no documentation or any leave application. The local staff just disappears for a day, sometimes a few days. This is a clear scenario of massive lost man hours from the government side.

    It’s such a waste of invested money by any nation’s government on educating the locals, bringing in the best education and training in the world to their country, without taking the initiative for showing hard work or the minimum expected return for it. So, despite the best education, some of locals are ill-prepared for management roles because they skipped an equally important part of learning—by doing, and one’s expertise is honed by constant practice.

    As it has been for a very long time now, the local government offices working hours are much more shortened compared to private companies. The government offices have 7 to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week only; while the private companies work 10 hours a day sometimes up to 14 hours, and 6 days a week. The government offices also have very long non-working days during Eid holidays. Yet the government employees have the best compensation and benefits package for accomplishing very little during the day.

    They also have odd ways of rewarding both locals and expats at work. Some companies do not reward its people based on performance merits, but based on the direction they want the company to move forward. Somebody would get extra % increase in salary or fat bonuses just for converting to Islam. For the benefits package, some government companies include “social” allowance for local employees, which encourages more time away from work. For the Muslims, there have even more non-working days like Hajj.

    The expats are supposed to be compensated a certain way, sometimes even higher than the locals, because of their experience, technical know-how, and the exertion of physical strength under extremely difficult working condition. The stakes are also high for them to be mobilizing to another country leaving their family, relatives, friends, businesses, and the adjustments they have to prepare themselves for the challenges of adapting to a new environment, culture, laws, and way of life. Not the other way around.

    The Qataris don’t like to do dirty jobs, like the ones the laborers and the domestic workers would do. That’s fine. If they want the expats to do the work for them, then be willing to pay the price. Qatar has stopped giving new visas to some existing Asian countries they do business with because of complaints escalated to the local and international courts. They now start giving new work visas to other Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar who speak little English or other international language for cheaper wages.

    They now also are slowly changing the salary structure for administrative, sales, marketing, technical and hospital staffing jobs making them much less attractive based on excessive availability of qualified expats who are desperately looking for a job while making their visit to Qatar worthy. I know some Asian expats who would take the plunge of accepting a job offer for administrative role for half the salary of what was previously offered for an admin role 10 years ago.

    The Qataris believe this is their time to flourish as a nation in the region courageously competing alongside the Western and Asian counterparts. Their allies are ranked in 2nd, 3rd and 4th tiers. They especially dislike the Americans and their values that are opposed to the teachings of their faith. They dislike that the Americans are allies with the nations they have issues with like the Israel (the Jews vs. the Palestinians).

    I saw the steady decline in the expats' working condition, not only amongst the laborers but even amongst the certified engineers from SE Asia like India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. What the government companies/clients are doing is they delay the processing of payments or hold its release to the contractors until they start to see some major milestones in their projects, which sometimes violates the contract/agreement. The contractors fear that if they complain they will lose the project, hence the business. Unfortunately, there are so many contractors in Qatar now more than ever who think that Qatar is still what it used to be 5-10 years ago.

    The effect of delaying the payment to the contractors means delay in workers' salaries sometimes up to six months or more. What the contractors do is they occasionally provide meals to the office staff just to compensate for delaying their salaries. Qatar makes money out of the interest they could earn by deliberately delaying the release of contract payments in every step of whole payment process. And Qatar government blames this abuse of not paying workers’ wages on time to the contractors.

    I hope this is not how Qatar became the self-proclaimed "World's richest country in the World."

    I hope the other nations, especially those who have previously experienced working in Qatar, would not mirror these practices and use it to enrich themselves instead of helping those who are in need. It would be sad.

    I hope it's not too late for FIFA to award the 2022 World Cup to a deserving country. Qatar continues to test the waters to see how far FIFA will bend. It’s interesting though that Qatar seems not bothered by the potential worst case scenario.

    However many times they keep saying in the news that they will amend their laws to meet international labor rights standards, forget it, they won’t. Listen not to their words; instead, observe non-verbal cues, their actions, and laws that they pass. They feel that by tweaking the laws, they will lose control and will allow the expats to move constantly from one employment to another.

    While it is true that Qatar has rich oil and gas reserves, they are also a small nation in terms of population. They need to start treating the expats properly, especially the laborers.

    It's not a force for good to continue having in our midst a nation whose wealth is built on abuses on people from countries who struggle and are hit hardest by their country’s slow and ever-failing economy, just so it can reap the benefits for hosting the 2022 World Cup.

    November 22, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Reply

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