LONDON: Qatar’s efforts to protect migrant workers’ rights to accurate and timely wages have largely failed, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.
Employee rights had been frequently ignored by over 60 major employers in the country, and its pledges in 2017 to the International Labour Organization to protect migrant workers from wage abuses and to abolish the kafala visa system had not been fulfilled, according to the report titled “How Can We Work Without Wages: Salary Abuses Facing Migrant Workers Ahead of Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022.”
HRW said it found multiple examples of wage abuse against people in all manner of roles, from security staff to cleaners and construction workers.
“Ten years since Qatar won the right to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, migrant workers are still facing delayed, unpaid, and deducted wages,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.
“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,” he added.
“Qatar has two years left before players kick the first ball at the World Cup. 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.”
Qatar depends on a migrant workforce of over 2 million to help build its World Cup infrastructure.
However, many migrant workers find themselves trapped in debt and left completely at the mercy of unscrupulous employers.
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has worsened conditions, with some employers using it as an excuse to withhold wages and forcibly repatriate those owed outstanding sums.
HRW said the kafala system, which ties worker visas to employers and that Qatar has promised to do away with, facilitated abuse.
Some workers had also been required to pay as much as $2,600 upfront to secure jobs in Qatar, only to arrive in debt and with worse wages than promised. Late payment is also an issue.
In 2015, Qatar implemented the Wage Protection System, followed by Labour Dispute Resolution Committees in 2017, and the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund in 2018.
It also announced reforms that would put in place a minimum wage for all migrant workers in Qatar and allow them to leave their jobs without employer consent.
But HRW said these changes could be easily circumvented by employers, and taking large companies to court was often costly and ineffective for individuals, who risked retaliation for doing so.
World football governing body FIFA said it “has a zero-tolerance policy to any form of discrimination and to wage abuse.”
It added: “FIFA is aware of the importance of wage protection measures in (Qatar) and this is why FIFA and the other tournament organizers have put in place robust systems to prevent and mitigate wage abuse on FIFA World Cup sites, as well as mechanisms for workers to raise potential grievances and practices to provide for remediation where companies fail to live up to our standards.”