Migrant workers in Qatar in debt after being sent home before the start of the World Cup | Qatar

JThousands of low-paid migrant workers in Qatar are being forced to return home ahead of the World Cup, leaving many fearful of ending up jobless, unable to support their families and deep in debt.

In some cases, workers say they were fired before the end of their contract or without receiving their full salary or allowances.

The moves to send migrant workers back to their home countries ahead of the start of the FIFA tournament appear to be linked to a government circular, published last year and seen by the Guardian, which ordered some contractors to complete all work by mid-September and prepare a furlough plan for workers that “maximizes the reduction in the number of workers in the country” in the run-up to the World Cup.

On the wide promenade that runs along Doha Bay, a red clock in the shape of the Qatar World Cup logo counts down the days until the start of the tournament.

When the Guardian visits in the summer, hundreds of migrant workers dressed in blue overalls worked in the sweltering humidity to complete the redesign of a popular footbridge and the road running alongside it, known as the Corniche, which is expected to be a destination for thousands of tourists and football fans once the tournament begins.

The Guardian interviewed 25 workers employed on the Corniche. Most said they expected to be in Qatar for two years, but were sent home much sooner – in some cases after just 10 months. Many of those interviewed have now returned to their country.

Some workers who spoke to the Guardian said they had not worked long enough to repay the colossal sums – equivalent to four or five months’ basic salary in Qatar – that they had borrowed to pay recruitment agents in their home country to secure their employment in Qatar.

A clock on the Doha Corniche counts down the days until the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Photograph: Pete Pattisson/The Guardian

“We don’t want to go back. We are poor so we have to work,” said a Nepalese worker, who said he had been forced to pay the equivalent of almost £1,000 in illegal recruitment fees to get the job. “I haven’t refunded the fees yet. I will lose if I am fired.

Others were in a state of confusion, saying they were being sent home but were told they could be recalled after the World Cup. They now risk up to six months without pay while they wait to see if they can return.

All of the workers interviewed said they had no choice but to leave. “Many have already been sent and more are on the list. If your name is on the list, you have to go,” said one.

Many blamed the World Cup for the sudden end to their job. “Everyone will be fired because of the World Cup. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here,” one said. “What can I do? I am helpless.

Ansar Ali* said he paid an agent in India 100,000 rupees (£1,050) to secure his job. To pay the fees, he borrowed money at a high interest rate of 10%, but calculated that in two years he could pay off the debt and still earn enough to support his wife and family. his two sons.

But just 10 months after arriving in Qatar, he now expected to be sent home at any moment. “I don’t know when I will be sent, but I know I will have to leave. Two or three of my friends have already been notified,” he said.

“How am I going to survive when I come back? How am I going to repay my debt? he asked as he headed to a currency exchange office to exchange Qatari riyals for Indian rupees.

The workers interviewed by the Guardian are employed by UrbaCon Trading & Contracting Company (UCC) and InfraRoad, both subsidiaries of UCC Holding, on a Corniche modernization project.

Most of the workers affected appear to have been hired on short-term “project visas”, but say they were told they would be employed for at least two years. Letters from InfraRoad offering jobs to workers in August 2021 – after the government circular was issued – seem to support this claim.

The letters promise annual leave and round-trip airfare after two years, and require two months’ notice after two or more years of service.

Some workers blamed recruitment agents in their home countries for falsely promising them a two-year contract. Others said the responsibility rests with the contractor. “It’s the company’s fault because they made the deal with the agent,” one says.

Search by migrant-rights.organ organization that defends the rights of migrant workers in the Gulf, recently uncovered similar cases among workers returned to Nepal by a number of Qatar’s largest construction companies.

Some workers told migrant-rights.org that they had not received their full salary, overtime pay or severance pay. Others said they were sent home before their contracts ended.

One, who worked in Qatar for 12 years, including several World Cup stadiums, said: “How nice it would be for workers like me to watch the games in the stadiums we have. ourselves built. But who cares about us? There is no value for workers in this country. I feel like the World Cup is an event of and for the rich. »

May Romanos, Gulf Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “It is crucial that the Qatari government put workers’ rights at the forefront of any decision and ensure that the very people who made Qatar’s dream possible to host this World Cup do not face further abuses and violations as a result.

In a statement, a Qatari official said the government was not forcing companies to repatriate employees or downsize ahead of the World Cup.

“Any independent action taken by companies to reduce their workforce must be taken in accordance with the law and must not have a negative impact on the well-being of employees,” he said.

The statement also said that labor law allows employers and employees to terminate a contract before the end of its term as long as they respect the legal notice period. Foreign workers have the right to change jobs if their contract is terminated and legal procedures are in place if an employee does not receive their salary or allowances at the end of their contract, he added.

The Qatari government also said a fund to support workers, including reimbursing unpaid wages or benefits, paid out £152.5million last month.

“Qatar is committed to a fair and efficient labor system, and we appreciate the indispensable role of foreign workers in our economy and in society at large,” the official added.

UCC Holding did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Sign up for a different perspective with our Global Dispatch newsletter – a roundup of our best stories from around the world, recommended reading and our team’s thoughts on key development and human rights issues, delivered in your inbox every two weeks:

Comments are closed.