The Qatari government’s Wage Protection System (WPS), designed to ensure that workers receive their salaries through direct bank transfer by the seventh day of every month, failed to address an employer’s months of delayed wages to employees, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
The system is supposed to let the government monitor wage payments and allows the labour minister to impose sanctions on companies and employers that do not comply but a Qatari employer got away with non-payment to its managerial staff for five months and its labourers for two months before workers publicly protested the situation.
Qatar has passed some laws to protect migrant workers, but the authorities seem more interested in promoting these minor reforms in the media than in making them work,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“FIFA and the Qatari government should ensure that any employer that has delayed payments immediately releases them, as well as levy appropriate fines,” said Page.
Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup organizer, the quasi-governmental Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, has also adopted measures to protect workers on World Cup sites, setting stringent rules for contractors. The rules require setting up worker welfare committees to report abuses on these sites.
Many of the managerial-level staff with this employer received the five months of payments they were owed on February 13, and those who have not are expecting them on February 16. All the labourers Human Rights Watch spoke to receive the two months of payments they were owed on February 07. Staffers and labourers said they were told by senior management that the government stepped in to make the payments.
Human Rights Watch spoke to 11 workers under this employer – seven from management, three labourers, and a former management staff member – and reviewed relevant documentation, including five official memos asking management staff to keep working to maintain the “reputation of the [employer].” All seven management staff members said that the employer failed to pay at least 500 managerial staff such as engineers, surveyors, and supervisors beginning in September 2019.
While Human Rights watch documented the problems under one employer, the findings expose a systemic failure that has a bearing on all employers operating in Qatar, Human Rights Watch said.
The management staff said they reported to work without pay under threat of deductions until several staff members decided to stop working until they were paid. The employer and their top-level management also made similar threats to keep labourers working throughout December and January. During this time, the labourers remained in their employer-provided accommodations and were provided regular meals. Management staff arrange for their own room and board.
The employer engages over 6,000 workers and has over 25 current projects in Qatar. These include a stadium in Doha, which will host FIFA World Cup 2022 matches, the streets surrounding the stadium, and a road-building project to connect Doha’s downtown areas to several FIFA World Cup stadiums.
Since migrant workers are still banned under Qatari law from joining unions and participating in strikes, some of the unpaid workers risked arrest to protest for their salaries. “We were scared to stop working and protest, but our families back home were starving so we blocked the main road near our accommodation,” said an Indian labourer working on a road-building project for minimum wage (US$206 a month). The three labourers interviewed said they received their past-due wages on February 7, the same day as they protested, and are back at work.
Managerial staff protested outside one of their employer’s many project offices in Doha on February 09, they told Human Rights Watch. They said that government and police officials intervened, verbally promised prompt payment, and sent the protesters home.
Their September salary was sent to their bank accounts that day. Salaries for October, November, December, and January began pouring into hundreds of salary accounts on February 13, the staff members said. Three of the seven staff members interviewed received full payments, and the others said they expect to receive theirs on February 16.
Under the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Forced Labour (No. 29), work is considered forced or compulsory labour when workers are made to work under threat of penalty or withholding and non-payment of wages.
Staff members said that before they held protests on main roads, they had filed complaints about their missing wages with the local police on January 30 and at the National Human Rights Commission on February 04. They said they did not receive any written responses for these complaints.
This is not the first time this employer has delayed the payment of salaries to its employees. Managerial staff said they have not been receiving their wages on time since January 2018, often with two to three month delays, a direct violation of Qatar’s labour law, which requires that employees be paid their wages in full and on time.
Despite introducing some labour reforms over the past couple of years, Qatari authorities have failed to abolish the exploitative kafala sponsorship labour system that fuels abuses and gives employers excessive power over their employees. In most cases, employer’s consent is still needed for a worker to change jobs. (Source: HRW)