Amnesty International is calling on Qatar to urgently investigate abuses in the private security sector.
Several security guards in Qatar are being forced to work more 12-hour shifts a day with no breaks or a day-off, a new report by Amnesty International has found.
“The security guards, all migrant workers, described routinely working 12 hours per day, seven days a week, often for months or even years on end without a day off,” the report stated.
“Most said their employers refused to respect the weekly rest day which is required by Qatari law, and workers who took their day off faced being punished with arbitrary wage deductions.”
One guard described his work in the Gulf nation as “survival of the fittest,” Amnesty added.
In the newly released ‘They think that we’re machines’ report, the rights group spoke to more than 34 current or former employees of eight private companies in the nation between April 2021 and February 2022 to document their experiences, which they described as ‘forced labour.’
The report says some of the companies which are responsible for ‘inhumane abuses’ are in charge of several infrastructure projects that will be essential for the FIFA 2022 World Cup, such as hotels, transport systems, and sports facilities.
The organisation revealed that three of the companies “have provided security for FIFA tournaments, including the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup, which was postponed to 2021, and the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup.”
“They would say we don’t have enough security, so you have to work. We didn’t have any option. If your supervisor says go to duty you have to go, or they cut your salary,” one Kenyan worker told the rights group.
He added that he used to leave his accommodation at 6.30 am and return at 8 pm, often working for months without a single day off. Abdul, another worker from Bangladesh, worked in Doha from 2018 to mid-2021 and has allegedly not taken one day off during the three years he worked.
“Imagine working a 12-hour shift then being driven to the training centre, then you do training for eight hours. All night. They think that we’re machines,” Zeke, a Ugandan guard who worked at the FIFA Club World Cup in February 2021, told Amnesty International.
According to Article 73 of Qatari labour law, the maximum working hours throughout the year, apart from Ramadan, are 48 hours per week, with a maximum of eight hours per day. In addition, one day must be taken off a week to ensure the well-being of workers.
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However, several of the country’s labour laws and reforms are not being effectively implemented, allowing for such abuses to happen due to a power imbalance between workers and their employers.
Amnesty states that for the security guards to take the rest day that they were legally entitled to, they had to seek express permission from their employers, which was often refused. Those who took the day off without permission usually got their wages deducted, amounting to what is described as forced labour by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
“The abuses we uncovered can all be traced back to the massive power imbalance that still exists between employers and migrant workers in Qatar, indicating that there are still major gaps in the authorities’ enforcement of labour laws,” said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice.
“Many of the security guards we spoke to knew their employers were breaking the law but felt powerless to challenge them. Physically and emotionally exhausted, workers kept reporting for duty under threat of financial penalties – or worse, contract termination or deportation.”
One worker told Amnesty that taking the mandatory rest day without permission could “result in a penalty of up to 200 riyals.” That is more than five days’ pay.
“They say Friday is an off day, but it is a day off that you don’t have, you cannot complain. If you do, you are terminated and deported,” another security guard told the organisation.
The Ministry of Labour issued a response to the new report, stating that the organisation “highlights a small number of cases where violations persist but ignores the positive impact of Qatar’s reforms across the whole population.”
The statement went on to say, “Qatar has taken immediate action to remedy individual cases of wrongdoing, but these cases do not represent an underlying fault with the robust labour system now in place. The prevalence of rule-breaking companies has and will continue to decline as enforcement measures take hold and compliance increases among employers.”
“Qatar has repeatedly said that systemic reform is a long-term process and shifting the behaviour of every company takes time. The reality is that no other country has come so far so quickly, but for some, the pace of change will never be fast enough.”
Last week, the Associated Press reported that the country’s World Cup organisers admitted that workers were being exploited during the preparations for the tournament in Qatar.
The first-of-its-kind accountability statement was released shortly after Amnesty International released information about the ‘forced labour’ of several other security guards in Qatar, who were exceeding the 60-hour maximum working week without any days off.
“Three companies were found to be non-compliant across a number of areas,” Qatar World Cup organisers said in a statement.
“These violations were completely unacceptable and led to a range of measures being enforced, including placing contractors on a watch-list or black-list to avoid them working on future projects – including the FIFA World Cup – before reporting said contractors to the Ministry of Labor for further investigation and punitive action.”
However, no new steps have yet been taken to ensure justice is served for such abuses, which seem to reoccur often throughout the years.
The human rights group is calling on the nation’s authorities to urgently “investigate abuses in the private security sector, publish its findings, and offer redress for workers, including ensuring they get adequate rest and pay.”
Amnesty International said Qatar should also “publish a detailed action plan to ensure no such abuses are repeated”, the report added.