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Wed 18 Dec 2013 10:54 AM

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Unpaid foreign workers ‘starving’ at glitzy Qatar development

At a tower known as Qatar’s 'home of football’, Amnesty claim 80 migrant workers have not received their wages for almost a year

Unpaid foreign workers ‘starving’ at glitzy Qatar development
(Image for illustrative purpose only - Getty Images)

More than 80 foreign workers at one of Qatar’s most prestigious developments are facing serious food shortages after not being paid for almost a year, a report from a lobbyist group said.

An investigation by Amnesty International into the plight of migrant labour at the Al Bidda Tower in Doha’s financial district found that the workers were owed approximately QR1.5m ($412,000) by their employer Lee Trading and Contracting (LTC).

Amnesty International, which visited the workers’ accommodation in Al Sailiya last month, said that their situation amounted to forced labour, with those affected currently forbidden from leaving the Gulf state, which in 2022 will host the FIFA World Cup.

“They have not had been paid for nearly a year and can’t even buy food to sustain themselves on a day-to-day basis. They also can’t afford to send money back home to their families or to pay off debts,” Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said in a statement.

“The Qatari government must step in now and end this crisis. The men have told us they simply want to collect the unpaid wages they are owed and to leave the country. The Ministries of Labour and Interior must deliver that as soon as possible. Doing so will signal that the government really means what it says about protecting workers’ rights,” Shetty added.

Amnesty said that living conditions for the group, who come from countries including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, were grim, with many sleeping on hard wooden floors in structurally unstable buildings.

They had originally been employed by LTC to fit out two floors of the Al Bidda Tower, which is known as Qatar’s "home of football’, due to the number of organisations related to the sport that are based there.

The project was completed in October 2013, but Amnesty said that the workers had still not been paid, although precisely why not was not immediately apparent.

Due to Qatar’s sponsorship system, the employees are not permitted to find alternative work or leave the country without the consent of LTC.

One worker told Amnesty that his sister in Nepal had committed suicide due to financial problems exacerbated by his non-payment of wages.

All of the workers have filed cases against LTC at the Qatari capital’s Labour Court in a bid to reclaim their wages, but proceedings have been unable to progress as they cannot afford the QR600 fee each for an expert report to be commissioned into the case.

They told Amnesty that the court rejected their request for the fees to be waived, despite Qatar’s labour law stating that workers should be exempt from judicial fees.

The stranded workers said that they had previously halted work on the site in August, but had been threatened with jail by an LTC representative. They had been receiving QR250 food allowance from LTC, but this ceased in October, they told Amnesty.

They now say they are being forced to borrow money to purchase food.

An LTC representative told Amnesty International that they denied the workers’ allegations.

The rights of migrant workers in Qatar, which in 2010 was awarded the right to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, have repeatedly been called into question by human rights organisations.

The country is expected to spend up to $200bn on infrastructure in the years prior to the football tournament and is heavily reliant on foreign labour, mainly recruited from countries in South and South-East Asia.

Authorities in Qatar have vowed to improve the lot of migrant workers, including blacklisting companies that do not pay their staff on time.

Worker 5 years ago

Sometimes I feel ashamed of working in the GCC. I certainly have to defend the region everytime I travel home, where they criticize me for working in a regi0n that supports slavery. What happens here in Qatar has a negative effect on the whole region and the UAE should not only exert pressure on companies in the UAE, but also on its' neighbours to change this bad tradition. One of the problems here seems to be though that real slavery is not that far away in local history, and seems not to be fully erased in some of the local citizens' culture and habits when one looks at how Indonesian housemaids are walking in a pijama behind the chique lady, or how poor Indian shopkeepers are shouted at from the car to deliver their order to the guy in his big SUV. If this region really wants to be number ONE, it should do so on all levels.

DDK 5 years ago

Disgusting!

DubaiMike 5 years ago

This story should be sent to all football associations associated with the world cup. Qatars shameful lack of action in regard to workers rights and tacit allowance of such exploitation should be forced to come to a shuttering stop. I look forward to the usual comments.

Anon 5 years ago

Name and Shame those responsible and then award the World Cup to a civilised nation. Qatar clearly remains 3rd world albeit awash with easy money.

Observer 5 years ago

Never was and will never be ashamed of living here. I've been here long enough to know how things are run here by the majority of expats with total disregard to the local's best interest. I know how big companies take advantage of the employees whether white or blue collar to maximise profit. I know how work is done to the lowest standards and is approved through bribery. From the simple worker to the highest in management, I've seen people who are ready to risk reputation and even a jail term just to stay on the payroll of a job they hardly deliver a delayed 50% of. Tell me you haven't seen night shift workers sleeping all the way through shifts?
I've never been treated but respectfully by locals.. They know I'm a man who'll do the job with no intention of conning them out of their money.. I don't have the attitude of 'as long as it's not my money and I can get away with it, then why not' of many expats. I know that paid as a peaceful conscience and respect from others

Observer 5 years ago

Am I the only one or do any of you readers and comment writers think that it's first and foremost the Lee Trading and Contracting (Lee? mmm) responsibility to answer to the workers plight. I bet you it's an expat owned and run company, not a Qatari gov. co. and most likely has no single Qatari employee.

And for journalistic reasons only, why wasn't the management of the said company contacted? I'm, as a humble reader, interested in what they have to say.. really.

David 5 years ago

Aww the poor Qataris are being blamed by these crazy workers. It is all their fault that they are hungry, how dare they even complain about not getting paid for an year!! They should be thankful that it's only been an year, right?

Mick 5 years ago

The stories will keep coming all the way to the eve of the 2022 and nothing will happen. It will only result in more and more articles, comments, blogs, opinion pieces and Qatar will continue to turn a blind eye because they have been gifted a wrongful opportunity for the World Cup. In reality, the ongoing treatment of workers in Qatar is just a small percentage of the reasoning of why Qatar should never have been awarded the World Cup. Too hot, too conservative, too anti-semitic, too much unecessary bureacracy and process, too indifferent to human rights etc etc. It's a mystery.

Roger 5 years ago

If FIFA refuses to take appropriate action here, meaning taking the World Cup away from this unfit host, then football fans and consumers must step up and boycott the World Cup. This means boycotting all events leading to the event, FIFA events and matches, FIFA and World Cup related merchandise, and all other money-making and goodwill-generating products, services, marketing campaigns, etc. related to the 2022 event and its organizers. I know this is not an easy task, particularly for football fans, but this is the only way to ensure those reptiles at FIFA do the right thing. Remember, this is an organization mired in corruption scandals, and who knows what else they've been up to. Shame shame shame on Qatar and FIFA.

Anon 5 years ago

Well Qatari.......we are waiting for your excuses......waiting.....