LONDON: Qatari companies have failed to pay “hundreds of millions of dollars” in wages and benefits to low-paid workers amid the coronavirus pandemic, new research by human rights group Equidem has revealed.
In a report, Equidem says thousands of workers have been dismissed without notice, put on lower wages or unpaid leave, denied outstanding and end-of-service payments, or forced to pay for flights home.
The findings constitute “wage theft” on an unprecedented scale, according to Equidem, leaving workers destitute, short of food and unable to send money home during the pandemic despite Qatar being one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
A cleaner from Bangladesh, who said he had not received a wage for four months, said: “I came here to work for my family, not to be a beggar living on my own.”
The UK-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre found that unpaid or delayed wages were reported by workers in 87 percent of alleged labor-abuse cases, which have affected almost 12,000 workers since 2016.
Around 2 million migrant workers — the majority hailing from south Asia — work in Qatar, many on 2022 FIFA World Cup construction sites.
Despite the findings, Equidem praised some Qatari coronavirus-related measures. In March, the government made it compulsory for companies to pay workers in quarantine or government-imposed isolation and set up a loan scheme to subsidize the payments.
But the report warns of a “widespread failure to comply” with the ruling and other regulations.
The Qatari government later allowed companies that had stopped operating due to pandemic restrictions to put workers on unpaid leave or terminate their contracts as long as they followed the country’s labor law, which includes providing a notice period and paying outstanding benefits.
The report highlights a number of companies that exploited or failed to follow this directive. Almost 2,000 workers employed by one construction company were “laid off on the spot,” workers have claimed. Many have not received their outstanding salary or end-of-service settlement.
The report said: “Many migrant workers are in an extremely vulnerable position with no real ability to assert their rights or seek remedy for violations.”
Mustafa Qadri, director of Equidem, said the lack of a lawful right to organize or join a trade union “has prevented workers from having a seat at the table with the government and employers to negotiate an equitable share of funds,”
In a statement, Qatar said its pandemic response “has been driven by the highest international standards of public health policy and the protection of human rights.”
It added: “Employers failing to pay their staff on time or withholding end of service payments have faced disciplinary action, including heavy fines and bans that prevent them from operating.”