by Hazar Kilani
For many of us it’s been a challenging few months as we grow accustomed to life under lockdown, sanitising every five minutes, and depending on video calls for most of our human interactions. But for some, the past few months have been a literal struggle for survival. Especially those who’ve found themselves out of work or those in lower paid jobs as the economic impact of this pandemic sets in deeper and deeper by the day.
Some of the most vulnerable have been people who work for business owners that have chosen to put profit above everything else and have failed to care for their workers.
One of those employers accused of this has been a small security company called Al-Jazira, its employees say they’ve been left without pay, some of them for more than 2 months.
Amongst their staff is ‘Bernard’, whose real name we shall not reveal. Relaying his story to Doha News, he told us of how as a young boy back home, he was always a huge fan of crime shows and had dreamt of being a crime scene investigator.
However, life didn’t pan out the way he wanted it to. A bachelor’s degree and a few years later, Bernard found himself stuck in a seemingly never-ending job hunt. So he started researching and writing for college students to make ends meet. “I know many people will call that cheating,” Bernard tells me, laughing. “But I had no option. I needed the money.” But that money still wasn’t enough to feed his family, which led him to make a huge decision — to leave his home and look for work abroad.
In late 2019 Bernard thought things were finally going to start getting easier for him, he’d found a job at a security company in Qatar and even though it wasn’t the crime scene investigator dream that he’d had as a boy, it promised to pay enough for him to provide for his family. That job offer was from Al-Jazira Security Services, Bernard accepted it and relocated to Doha but only after having to pay 2000 Qatari riyals to an agent in his home country. As far as he was concerned, it was worth it because Al-Jazira Security Services were going to pay him a salary of 1500 Qatari Riyals a month. But his hopes were quickly shattered and replaced with weeks of unpaid work consisting of 12-hour shifts, without a single day off. “In the past 3 months I have only received a little bit over 500 riyals, including advance payments I was forced to request because of my situation.” That’s a little over 5 riyals a day.
On Monday, Al-Jazira Security issued a statement to Doha News, in it they said:
But it’s not only been the late payments that Bernard has had to cope with. “We are currently sleeping in the building we are guarding. They told us to leave the company accommodation because of the virus.” He tells us that there are 10–12 security guards living in that building, some of them sleep on the sofas and chairs, others on a mattress laid out between shelves in an unused room.
After being silent about his working conditions for months, Bernard finally broke his silence, worried though of any possible repercussions; he decided to write about his ordeal anonymously online in the hope of finding a solution. Last Wednesday he published a post titled “My Qatar nightmare (Al Jazira Security Company)” on the social media site ‘Reddit’, and it soon went viral.
In the post, Bernard claimed that his company took his passport as well as some of his colleagues’, something that’s illegal for companies to do under Qatari law.
In their statement to Doha News, his employers responded saying:
The security company also insisted in their statement that their General Manager’s door is always open to employees and that no harm would come to them if they were to complain.
The reality is though that many workers who’ve come from foreign countries will feel vulnerable, especially in times like these with the economic situation getting so much worse and people losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
At the beginning of the crisis, the government foresaw things like this happening, businesses being unable to pay their staff because of the economic downturn, so it made QR75 billion available for businesses to help keep them afloat. The money comes as interest free loans to business who are struggling. On top of that, Muhammad Hassan Al-Obaidly, an official at the Ministry of Labour, recently told local media that three billion riyals were also set aside to support companies in paying their employees.
It seems however that companies are refusing to take out these loans even though the government is offering them on extremely flexible terms. So in reality, business owners are refusing to borrow from their government and instead forcing poor and vulnerable workers into debt.
That was the case for Bernard. “I have been forced to borrow money from friends and they expect me to repay it soon since the COVID-19 situation has been tough on everyone. I have already used a lot of money to come here and yet my debts keep piling up”.
The clock has started ticking for Al-Jazira, who has promised to pay all due wages in two days, as for Bernard, he hopes that his story will help put pressure on “greedy bosses” and force them to start doing right by their employees.