Qatar 2022: Workers detained for protesting late pay

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates –

Qatar recently arrested at least 60 foreign workers who protested against being unpaid for months and deported some of them, an advocacy group said, just three months before Doha hosted the FIFA World. Cup 2022.

The move comes as Qatar faces intense international scrutiny over its labor practices ahead of the tournament. Like other Gulf Arab states, Qatar relies heavily on foreign workers. The workers’ protest a week ago – and Qatar’s response – could add to concerns.

The head of a labor consultancy that is investigating the case said the detainees had raised new doubts about Qatar’s commitment to improving its treatment of workers. “Is this really what’s going on?” Mustafa Qadri, CEO of Equidem Corporation asked.

In a statement to the Associated Press on Sunday night, the Qatari government acknowledged that “several protesters have been arrested for violating public safety laws.” It declined to provide any information about the arrests or any deportations.

Video posted online showing about 60 workers angry about their wages protested on August 14 outside the Doha offices of Al Bandary International Group, a conglomerate that includes construction, real estate and construction. , hotels, catering services and other business projects. Some of the protesters did not receive their paychecks for seven months, Equidem said.

Protesters blocked an intersection on Doha’s C Ring Road in front of Al Shoumoukh Tower. The footage matches known details about the street, including it features several massive portraits of Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, looking down at passersby.

Al Bandary International Group, which is privately owned, did not respond to a request for comment and a phone number registered under its name failed to connect after repeated attempts to call it.

The Qatari government acknowledged that the company had failed to pay wages and that its Labor Department would pay “all delayed wages and benefits” to those affected.

The government said: “The company was investigated by the authorities for non-payment of wages prior to the incident, and is now taking further action after having missed the deadline for settling outstanding wage payments. short”.

Qadri said police then arrested the protesters and detained them in a detention center, where some were described as being in a sweltering heat without air conditioning. Doha’s temperatures this week hit around 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

Qadri described police telling detainees that if they could attack in hot weather, they could sleep without air conditioning.

A detained worker called Equidem from the detention center described seeing about 300 of his colleagues there from Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Nepal and the Philippines. He said some people were paid after the protest while others were not. His comments cannot be corroborated.

Qatar, like other Gulf Arab states, has in the past expelled proven foreign workers, and tied residency visas with employment. The right to form a union remains tightly controlled and reserved only for Qataris, as is the country’s limited right to assembly, according to Washington-based advocacy group Freedom House.

Qatar, a small, energy-rich country on the Arabian Peninsula, is home to the state-funded Al Jazeera satellite news network. However, expression in the country is still tightly controlled. Last year, Qatar arrested and then deported a Kenyan security guard who wrote and spoke publicly about the woes of the country’s migrant workforce.

Since FIFA awarded the tournament to Qatar in 2010, the country has taken several steps to reform the country’s recruitment practices. That includes getting rid of the so-called kafala employment system, the system that ties workers to their employers who have talked about whether they can leave their jobs or even leave their jobs. country or not.

Qatar has also introduced a minimum monthly wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275) for workers and requested a meal and housing allowance for workers who do not receive it directly from their employers. .

Activists like Qadri have called on Doha to do more, especially when it comes to ensuring workers receive wages on time and are protected from abusive employers.

“Have we all been duped by Qatar in the last few years?” Qadri questioned, suggesting that recent reforms could be a “cover” for authorities to allow common labor practices to continue.

The World Cup will begin this November in Qatar.

Associated Press journalist Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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