for unpaid foreign workers, protesting means risking deportation

Qatar, which is preparing to host the FIFA World Cup next November, is once again attracting criticism from human rights organisations. The reason: workers from a construction company have been demonstrating for several months to demand unpaid wages. On August 14, the Qatari authorities arrested and expelled some of them.

In a protest on August 14, at least 60 workers employed by Al Bandary, some of whom had not been paid for seven months, blocked traffic outside the company’s Doha headquarters. This demonstration was organized as part of the “Pay up Fifa” campaign, which calls for the payment of unpaid wages.

In a video of the August 14 protest in Doha, dozens of workers are seen gathered outside the company’s headquarters, blocking the road in central Doha.

Quoted by AFP, the government of Qatar had declared that “a number of protesters had been arrested for violating public security laws”, adding that a “minority of people who did not demonstrate in a peaceful and acted in violation of public safety laws risk deportation by court order”. The Qatari government had further claimed that it was going to pay all the salaries of the employees.

Nimroud (pseudonym), our Observer, who works as a security guard, went on Saturday 28 August to the building where the workers of Al Bandary International Group were staying, in the municipality of Al Mukaynis. He claims to have found no workers from this company there.

The building that housed Al Bandary workers was completely deserted. There was nobody. The rooms were upside down. They left their clothes, there were mattresses, overturned box springs, their kitchen utensils, etc.

This video shot by our Observer on August 28 shows the building where Al Bandary workers lived, completely deserted. We also see box springs and mattresses overturned, thrown into the yard.

“Nationals of Arab countries and Bangladesh have told us that they have not yet been paid”

Mustafa Qadri is the founder of British migrant workers’ rights NGO Equidem, which revealed the arrest of Al Bandary workers on 23 August.

What we are certain of is that more than 60 workers have been arrested. Some workers with whom we are in contact told us that there were many more: between 270 and more than 300.

However, we do not know if they have all left the country. And we also don’t know how many of the workers who were arrested and how many are still in detention.

I am in contact with deported Nepalese workers and they tell me that all their compatriots have finally received their full unpaid wages and that they have all been expelled.

However, we also spoke with nationals of Arab countries and Bangladesh, and they told us that they have not yet been paid.

Sunday [28 août], a worker also told us that workers from Arab countries were still in detention. But we don’t know how many. The government of Qatar does not release this kind of information.

The Observateurs editorial staff tried to contact the Qatari Ministry of Labor and the Al Bandary company, without success.

The August 14 demonstration was in fact the culmination of a protest movement by workers at the Al Bandary company, which began last March and which continued for several months, as evidenced by videos posted on TikTok. .

On the video below, we see the workers gathered at the edge of the road at the exit of Doha.

Video posted on March 14, showing a group of Al Bandary workers gathered by the side of the road.

Video posted on June 5, showing a group of Al Bandary workers gathered by the side of the road.

The case of the Al Bandary group is far from isolated. Several Qatari construction companies have been accused of unpaid wages for several months. This video shows, for example, a demonstration by workers from the MCC Mestalla Construction company.

Video posted on February 25, 2022 on TikTok.

This other video shows a strike by workers at JH Construction, organized last March. They claimed, then, that they had not been paid since September 2021.

Video posted on YouTube on March 17, 2022.

And in the video below, it is employees of the company Redco International who are protesting.

Video posted on March 23 on Twitter.

Mustafa Qadri explains that unpaid wages are very “common”:

The strike by Al Bandary workers received media coverage as they demonstrated in central Doha on 14 August. But protests are common outside the city center, usually taking place in the industrial area. And this is a major concern.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, already in 2020, we noticed that many workers had not received their wages for several months.

And the problem already existed before 2020. It is very difficult to know how many companies have not paid salaries, and how many employees are not paid. The government of Qatar does not provide this kind of information.

Yet the state has made a commitment to ensure that workers are paid for the work done.

In October 2018, Qatar established the Workers’ Support Insurance Fund to pay workers who have not been paid by their employers within a short period of time. Marco Minocri, communication officer of the International Labor Organization for Qatar, regrets the slowness of the compensation procedures:

Since its creation in 2018 until July 2022, the fund has compensated more than 37,000 workers from different sectors of the economy, for an amount of more than 160 million dollars [161,2 millions d’euros, NDLR]. Some have since returned to their country, others have changed jobs.

But the procedures are not yet working efficiently, which is why there are still many workers waiting to be compensated. The delays are also partly due to Covid-19, because during the pandemic there was an increase in complaints and the labor courts could not meet to consider the complaints.

So it doesn’t work at the desired speed, there are a lot of delays. This is problematic because many migrant workers, especially low-wage workers, send between 80% and 90% of their wages home. So when there are salary delays, it has a big impact on their families.

As for the reasons for the unpaid wages, they remain unclear. Marco Minocri continues:

Sometimes a company goes bankrupt and does not pay its employees. In the construction industry, there are many layers of contractors [dans les pays du Golfe, NDLR]. When these companies do not receive the money from the main contractor, they are unable to pay their employees.

Mustafa Qadri of the NGO Equidem worries that workers are still deprived of union rights:

There is a real concern that these workers are being punished, detained and deported to their countries. So we have a country where workers are criminalized for simply organizing to demand their rights.

Qatar should sanction companies that do so. And there needs to be a lot more transparency.

Qatar has signed and ratified key human and labor rights documents, including the Forced Labor Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It therefore has strict international legal obligations to combat these practices.

Ironically, many of the footballers who will participate in this World Cup are unionized. But the workers who make this World Cup possible are not. [les syndicats ne sont pas autorisés au Qatar, NDLR]. I don’t know of a more stark depiction of inequality and discrimination.

There are no precise data on the number of foreign workers in Qatar, nor on deportations. The emirate has more than two million foreign workers, representing around 95% of its total workforce. Around one million workers are employed in the construction sector.

Intense heat, falls, heart failure… Many NGOs regularly denounce dangerous working conditions, particularly on construction sites related to the construction of stadiums to host the 2022 World Cup. In February 2021, the British daily The Guardian indicated that more than 6,500 Migrant workers had died on stadium construction sites in Qatar since 2010, due to extreme working conditions.


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