Controversy surrounding non-payment of salary to foreign workers in Qatar deepens

KATHMANDU: In its response to the report related to non-payment of salaries to foreign workers, Qatar has said that there are factual mistakes in the report and it does not reflect the current situation of Qatar.

The Gulf nation has also stated that none of the migrants coming for employment has complained about exploitation.

However, Qatar has admitted that previously employees did face problems in some selectcases, after which changes were made to the prevalent laws.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in its report released on August 24 that migrant workers are being exploited in Qatar. As per the report, workers are not being paid their salaries and being threatened of getting fired from their jobs. According to the report, employers have reduced the salaries of the workers due to which the migrants are struggling for their survival.

There are over 27 lakh foreign workers employed in various sectors in Qatar.

HRW, in its report, has mentioned that private companies often delay in paying salaries or arbitrarily downsize the salaries. The report also states that employers often do not pay the due amount for overtime work and workers do not receive the facilities they are entitled to. In most cases employers are seen violating the employment contract.

In recent years, the Qatari government has taken several steps to stop such harassment of migrant workers. For instance, it has introduced an electronic system of payment to safeguard the wages of workers. However, the HRW report mentions that this has not been as effective as expected.

Qatar is among the wealthiest nations in the world and it had earlier estimated that its budget would remain surplus in 2020 but the coronavirus pandemic has badly affected several sectors and foreign workers are the ones falling victim to this downturn in Qatar’s economy.

There are reports saying that many employers do not have money to pay salaries. On March 16, Qatar released a $20.6 billion business package, according to the news agency AFP. Of this amount, three billion riyals was allotted for the salary of the workers.

HRW has stated that exploitation of foreign workers has increased since the coronavirus epidemic started. Many migrants have said that their employers have stopped paying their salaries and they do not have any food and water to drink.

Though Qatar has brought in changes the HRW says that redressal of complaints against employers is a very difficult task and moreover it is also a very expensive process.

The power generation, hospitality and aviation sectors in Qatar have been badly affected by the global pandemic. Qatar Airways and Qatar Petroleum have cut jobs drastically.

HRW, meanwhile, has asked Qatar to implement the recommendations of the United Nations Labor Organization. The Gulf emirate will be hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and there have been voices raised for the nation to improve its labor laws before the global event is held.

HRW spoke to a few migrant workers among which 59 employees said that they have either not received their salary, or payments were made late, or that salaries were being withheld without any explanation. HRW has mentioned that nine workers revealed that employers have told them that since there is no work they will not be given any salary.

Meanwhile, 55 migrants complained that they did not get any money for the overtime work they had done.
Also, 13 employees said that their employers have changed the terms of their appointment and 20 mentioned that they were not given any benefits after termination of service. Furthermore, 12 workers revealed that their employers had cut their salary.

Salary cuts have increased during the COVID pandemic and some employers have not paid the salaries of employees citing the loss caused by the pandemic. Salaries have also not been provided to those employees who were forcibly sent back home. Some workers have said that they do not even have money to eat food, while others have said that the debt burden is increasing on them.

Human Rights Watch says that exploitation of foreign workers is entrenched in the system. In 2017, Qatar promised to end the Kafala system. At present, some parts of the system have been removed but this system still gives employers control over the employees.

A 38-year-old ECHR manager working in the real estate sector, who did not want to be identified, told HRW that he had been unable to pay his credit card bills, rent and children’s fees due to late payment of salary.

“I have not received my salary for two months and this situation is being faced by every employee at my level,” he said. “The condition of the workers is worse and it is difficult to imagine the situation in which they are living. I can at least take a loan from the bank but the laborers cannot even do that.”

One of the biggest problems in the Gulf labor destinations is non-payment of wages. Qatar and the other Gulf states have different types of the Kafala system. Qatar implemented the Wage Protection System (WPS) in 2015 to prevent wage exploitation of workers. In 2017, the Labor Dispute Settlement Committees was formed and in 2018, the Workers Support and Insurance Fund was established.

After the report was published by Human Rights Watch, the Qatari government said that HRW had contacted the government a few days before the report was made public but it mentioned that the government has not received such complaints before.

Looking at the issues that were brought up in the report the Qatari government has said it is ready to work with non-governmental organizations in cases related to salary exploitation. Moreover, the government has said that it is going to implement the minimum wage soon, which will be the first time in any Middle East country.
#BBC Hindi

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Tuesday August 25, 2020, 07:20:29 PM |

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