Qatar: 100 World Cup stadium workers not paid for up to seven months
Al Bayt Stadium, one of Qatar 2022’s ‘crown jewels’, expected to stage semi-final
Despite months of non-payment, FIFA apparently unaware of issue until last month
‘It shouldn’t take an Amnesty investigation for workers to be paid what they are owed’ - Stephen Cockburn
Migrant workers employed on a construction project for a FIFA World Cup stadium in Qatar worked for up to seven months without pay, Amnesty International revealed today.
Approximately 100 employees of Qatar Meta Coats (QMC), a design and construction company subcontracted for façade works on the £685m 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor City, are still waiting to be paid their full salaries.
Amnesty interviewed current and former employees of QMC and reviewed court records and contracts to establish the full extent of the non-payment (see timeline below). Amnesty has also documented how QMC failed to renew employees’ residence permits, putting them at risk of detention and deportation. Most are currently waiting out Qatar’s COVID-19 lockdown in cramped accommodation in Doha, where QMC is providing their meals.
This week, after Amnesty raised the QMC case with the Qatari authorities, FIFA, and Qatar’s World Cup organising body the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, some employees began to receive part of what they were owed, but none have yet received all of their unpaid wages.
Responding to the findings, FIFA said it contacted Qatar’s Supreme Committee once it became aware of the case following Amnesty’s investigation, and is now working with its partners in Qatar to ensure that outstanding salaries are paid. However, it remains unclear why FIFA was unaware of the Al Bayt Stadium situation until May. Amnesty believes that FIFA’s apparent lack of awareness of the plight of workers at one of its World Cup stadiums shows the footballing body is still failing to take human rights abuses linked to the 2022 World Cup seriously.
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice, said:
“This case is the latest damning illustration of how easy it still is to exploit workers in Qatar, even when they are building one of the crown jewels of the World Cup.
“Although recent payments will provide some welcome relief for workers, Qatar’s World Cup organisers told us they had known about the salary delays since July 2019. This raises the question of why Qatar allowed workers to continue working for months without pay.
“For years we have been urging Qatar to reform the system, but clearly change has not come fast enough. It shouldn’t take an Amnesty investigation for workers to be paid what they are owed.
“If, over the past ten years, FIFA had held its World Cup partners to account, and used its clout to push Qatar to fully reform its systems, we wouldn’t be hearing the same tales of workers’ suffering with only two-and-a-half years until kick-off.”
QMC’s unpaid salaries: timeline of non-payment
QMC workers told Amnesty that salary delays had affected all those working on the Al Bayt Stadium - approximately 100 migrant workers from Ghana, Kenya, Nepal and the Philippines, among other countries.
Delays in salary payments began in early 2019 before deteriorating further. Many QMC employees received no salary at all between September 2019 and the end of March 2020, with some payments stopped as early as August.
In January, after repeated unfulfilled promises over payment, some workers submitted complaints to Qatar’s labour tribunals. During mediation sessions, QMC representatives agreed to settle some claims but didn’t do so. Other employees were told they would be paid only if they agreed to end their contracts early and go home. Several employees said they were prevented from coming to work, apparently in retaliation for submitting a complaint or for refusing to end their contracts early.
By the end of February, QMC had removed all remaining employees off the Al Bayt Stadium and asked them to report to its factory, which manufactures and finishes materials including aluminium and steel, apparently for use in the stadium. The employees continued to work at the factory without pay until 22 March, when the factory closed due to coronavirus.
Supreme Committee’s response
Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy told Amnesty that it first learned of QMC’s payment problems in July 2019 during audit interviews with workers, and had since taken various measures to try to remedy the abuse, including meeting the company’s management, blacklisting it from future contracts and informing the Ministry of Labour.
The Supreme Committee’s workers’ welfare standards, which require companies on World Cup projects to ensure the rights of all workers are respected and abuses remedied, appear to have enabled the committee to detect the problems at QMC quickly. However, they were unable to secure timely payment for QMC workers, indicating the standards are still inadequate.
After Amnesty had exchanged detailed correspondence with the Supreme Committee and others for nearly a year, the committee told Amnesty workers would be paid imminently. On 7 June, workers confirmed to Amnesty that some had received part of their owed salaries, though not everyone had received a payment and even those who had did not receive the full amounts.
In written responses to Amnesty, QMC said the payment delays were due to financial difficulties and said it was trying to resolve them. Amnesty also wrote to the Qatari Ministry of Labour but has not received a reply.
Like many migrant workers who come to the Gulf, QMC employees paid large fees to get a job in Qatar, which is supposedly prohibited by Qatar’s Labour Law. Those interviewed by researchers said they paid amounts ranging from £700-£1,500 to recruitment agents in their home countries. Many had to take out loans to cover these fees and now find themselves struggling to provide for their families.
Kiran (name changed to protect his identity) said he could not go home yet or pay his younger siblings’ school fees because he had incurred large debts coming to work for QMC in Qatar. He told Amnesty:
“The future was not looking good for me before I came to Qatar … I was unemployed and couldn’t find a job in my home country ... I am the only person taking care of my parents and siblings and I thought coming to Qatar would make things better for all of us ... But sadly, things didn’t work out as I expected.”
Risk of detention and deportation
The QMC workers’ situation is exacerbated by the fact that most now have residence permits which have expired because the firm has failed for several months to renew them. Under Qatar’s controversial “kafala” system, migrant workers rely on their employers for almost every aspect of their legal presence in the country. Employers have a responsibility to provide them with valid residence permits, without which migrants cannot work legally in the country, will accumulate fines and can be detained or deported. They also cannot change jobs without their employers’ permission.