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Amnesty says 78 migrant workers in Qatar unpaid for months

FIFA and the Qatari government said the workers are not linked to a 2022 World Cup project
Al-Wakrah Stadium, a World Cup venue under construction in Qatar (AFP)

At least 78 migrant workers from Nepal, India and the Philippines have not been paid by their contractor in Qatar since February 2016, a report released by Amnesty International has said.

According to the London-based rights group, a construction company involved in building a showcase stadium that helped Qatar win its bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup has failed to pay migrant employees, leaving them “stranded and penniless".

The chief executive of Mercury MENA, the contractor in question, acknowledged “cashflow” problems in an interview with Amnesty last year.

Amnesty has accused the company of taking advantage of Qatar’s kafala (sponsorship) system, which denies workers the right to change jobs or leave the country without permission from their employers.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) opened an office in Qatar in April to support the implementation of a government labour rights programme amid rising scrutiny of the country's labour rights record.

Houtan Homayounpour, head of the ILO Project Office for Qatar, told Middle East Eye that a newly established Workers Support Fund in the Gulf country “would largely address the types of grievances mentioned in the Amnesty report".

According to Homayounpour, the fund will compensate workers whose employers have failed to pay them due to bankruptcy.

The Amnesty report has been criticised by FIFA and the Qatari government as “misleading” for linking the workers’ grievances with Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

"We have no reason to believe the reported violations of workers' rights are in fact linked to FIFA and the 2022 World Cup," a FIFA spokesman told AFP.

"We regret Amnesty chose to frame its statement in such a misleading manner."

Steve Cockburn, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International said his organisation is “insisting that there are plenty of links to the World Cup but not directly to the 2022 stadia.” He explained to MEE that FIFA is correct to point out that the case is not related to the non-payment of World Cup stadium workers. However, he said the report shows that the workers in question had worked on projects in the city of Lusail, marketed by Doha as the host city of the 2022 tournament.

Migrant workers in Qatar (AFP)

Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs told MEE that Mercury MENA no longer operates in Qatar, but that the government will “conduct a full investigation” into the cases highlighted in Amnesty's report.

“In the years since we started working collaboratively with the ILO, and organisations including Amnesty, we have aggressively transformed our labour system," the ministry statement said.

"Reforms and advances include: abolishment of exit permits, introduction of comprehensive wage protection system, and additional policies that protect guest workers from their recruitment to their return."

Earlier in September, Qatar ratified an amendment to its residency legislation that would allow migrant workers to leave the country without having to obtain permits from their employers.

Exit permits are a major element of the kafala system condemned by rights groups as a manifestation of modern-day slavery.

Employers will still be able to stop workers leaving without a "no-objection certificate", but this measure cannot be applied to more than 5 percent of their workforce and employers seeking to stop their workers leaving without their consent "due to work necessities" can be appealed. 

A no-objection certificate is a note of clearance that states that the previous employer does not object to their former employee getting a job elsewhere. It frees the worker from any obligation to their prior employer and allows them to find a new job. 

Qatar is home to nearly two million migrant workers, representing the majority of its population.