Qatar workers face old problems despite reform promises

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Issa Saad Al-Jafali Al-Nuaimi (C), Qatar's Minister of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, speaks to the press during the inauguration of the International Labor Organization (ILO)'s Qatar project office, in Doha on April 29, 2018. (AFP)
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In this file photo taken on May 04, 2015, foreign workers are seen at the construction site of the al-Wakrah football stadium, one of the Qatar's 2022 World Cup stadiums. (AFP / MARWAN NAAMANI)
Updated 10 May 2018

Qatar workers face old problems despite reform promises

DOHA: Just a 10-minute drive from the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) new office in the Qatari capital, Nabin explains how his employer has not paid his wages in two months.
He is one of hundreds of workers helping transform Msheireb, a rundown district in Doha, into an area of hotels, luxurious apartments and Qatar’s very own “Wall Street” financial center at a total cost of some $5.5 billion.
The Nepalese laborer should receive 1,100 Qatar riyals a month ($300, 250 euros), but says he has to survive on considerably less — in one of the world’s richest countries.
“In my country I was promised 1,100, but for the past two months I haven’t got my salary,” he said.
“They just gave me 100 riyals in advance.”
Like all workers interviewed for this article, the 20-year-old asked to use a pseudonym to protect his identity.
Resting in a patch of shade on the pavement during his lunch break as the midday heat reaches 36 degrees Celsius (97 Fahrenheit), Nabin said with no salary he is unable to buy food.
His is forced to rely on food at his labor camp, where he said he’s been served expired chicken.
Nearby, other workers rest after their morning shift, telling of endless problems.
Sumon, a Bangladeshi carpenter, said his company has refused to hand him his residency permit (RP) — an essential ID card used every day to prove legal residence and required to access anything from telephone contracts to opening a bank account.
“I gave 7,000 riyals to get an RP but the company has not made it,” he said.
“I said give it to me, I need it to travel, but I did not get any RP.”
He has complained to the courts, but a year on, he is still waiting.
“If I can get my RP, I will leave,” said the 24-year-old.
His colleague Ashik recounted how he paid 10,000 riyals — more than six months’ salary — to his sponsor just to obtain a No Objection Certificate, a document that permits a worker to transfer from one company to another.
He then had to pay another 10,000 riyals to get his new contract, he said.
Several workers complain of harassment from police demanding money from those without RPs.
They say one unlucky colleague was flown straight out of the country when he could not produce his permit.

Under huge pressure
The ILO opened its Qatar office on April 29, after signing a three-year agreement with the government to oversee fundamental labor change.
Qatar has come under huge pressure over its treatment of workers since winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup.
Limited reforms have failed to stem criticism from human rights groups and unions which accuse the Gulf state of widespread worker abuse.
Under its agreement with the UN agency, Qatar has committed to an overhaul including introducing a minimum wage — set at 750 riyals per month — establishing workers’ committees, and scrapping the exit visa where workers need their employers’ permission to leave the country.
That commitment has split Qatar’s critics.
Some, including the International Trade Union Confederation, are fully behind Doha.
Others, including some human rights advocates, remain cautious — skeptical that reform pledges have remained largely unfulfilled.
Previous promises to end the exit visa system have never been acted upon, according to critics.
The plight of workers in Msheireb echoes the sad stories of numerous workers heard since FIFA handed Qatar the World Cup in 2010.
It also shows that reforms already in place — including a law ensuring wages are paid in full — have failed to protect the most vulnerable.
Back in Msheireb, Ashik said those who will be most impacted by the latest reforms have heard nothing about them.
Sumon argues the minimum wage needs to be doubled to 1,500 to allow those building Qatar to enjoy a decent life.
“Everything is difficult because it is so expensive here,” he said. “We are here for our families to give a better life to them.”
At the end of their lunch break, the workers move slowly back from their resting place in “old” Msheireb to its gleaming new replacement, emerging on the Doha skyline in preparation for the World Cup.
Asked if they have any interest in football, Sumon replied: “No. They will throw us away when this project is finished.
“The football is not for us, it’s for different people.”

Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Updated 22 May 2018

Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

  • US Secretary of State laid out Trump administration’s strategy for constraining Iran’s nuclear program
  • US threatens "strongest sanctions in history" if Iranian government does not change course

WASHINGTON: The US told Iran on Monday to drop its nuclear ambitions and pull out of the Syrian civil war in a list of demands that marked a new hard-line against Tehran and prompted an Iranian official to warn that Washington seeks regime change.

Weeks after US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran, his administration threatened to impose “the strongest sanctions in history,” setting Washington and Tehran on a deeper course of confrontation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded sweeping changes that would force Iran effectively to reverse years of its foreign policies.

“The sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen for itself and the people of Iran,” Pompeo said in his first major speech since becoming secretary of state.

“These will be the strongest sanctions in history by the time we are done,” he added.

Pompeo took aim at Iran’s policy of expanding its influence in the Middle East through support for proxy armed groups in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

He warned that the US would “crush” Iranian operatives and allies abroad and told Tehran to pull out forces under its command from the Syrian civil war where they back President Bashar Assad.

Iran is unlikely to accede to the US demands. Tension between the two countries has grown notably since Trump this month withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Pompeo warned that if Iran fully resumed its nuclear program Washington would be ready to respond and said the administration would hold companies doing prohibited business in Iran to account.

“Our demands on Iran are not unreasonable: Give up your program,” Pompeo said, “Should they choose to go back, should they begin to enrich, we are fully prepared to respond to that as well,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Pompeo said if Iran made major changes, the US was prepared to ease sanctions, re-establish full diplomatic and commercial relations and support the country’s re-integration into the international economic system.

The speech did not explicitly call for regime change but Pompeo repeatedly urged the Iranian people not to put up with their leaders, specifically naming President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“At the end of the day the Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful, if they choose not to do so we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes I set forward,” said Pompeo.