Browsing 'strike' News

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Updated with comment from Uber

Asserting that they “are not slaves,” hundreds of Uber drivers in Qatar plan to go on strike from today to protest changes in fare policies.

Drivers involved said they will shut off the app en masse. This will increase prices for customers as demand for their services outpaces supply.

In a statement, they told Doha News:

“We drivers are not at all happy working with Uber, as it is very difficult to manage our expenses with low fare & high cost of living. Every month, fuel prices (are) going up and it (is) directly affecting our daily expenditure budget.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Uber drivers have gone on strike to protest their working conditions.

Upfront fares

This week, drivers said that several new changes Uber has made in recent months are cutting into their earnings.

In November for example, Uber rolled out a service that slashed prices by up to 25 percent for pickups in smaller, older cars.

At the time, drivers working under UberGo complained that they needed to make more trips to earn the same money they were making before.

Supplied

Uber strike flier

And late last month, the company introduced a new pricing policy called “upfront fares.”

The service shows customers who enter their destination in the Uber app an estimated trip fare before they even request a ride.

This helps clients budget better and saves them from “surprises or complicated math,” Uber states on its website.

Uber Qatar

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

It added that the fare would only change if drivers are kept waiting during pickup.

But drivers complained to Doha News that the upfront fares don’t take into account heavy traffic or any stops the customer asks them to make en route to their final destination.

Dishonest customers

In response to competitor Careem, Uber also now accepts cash payments, instead of just payment via credit card through its app.

But drivers said some customers take advantage of this by running away after the ride, or claiming to ask to get money from an ATM and then never coming back.

Lesley Walker

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

“If we make complaint, Uber will not do anything but at the same time they deduct 25 percent commission from our account for this unpaid trip also,” the drivers said.

They added, “Careem, the other online taxi provider, they always give money to us for unpaid rides.”

In a statement to Doha News, an Uber spokesperson said:

“Uber is committed to dialogue with partner drivers and our priority is to always improve their experience.”

He added, “Thousands of partners driving with Uber in Doha are satisfied and can rely on a dedicated partner support center located in the city with experts committed to answer their questions, share advice to improve their profitability and support any concern or problem they might encounter.”

Have you had a harder time catching a cab today? Thoughts?

Msheireb construction site.

Msheireb / Facebook

Msheireb construction site.

In a rare work stoppage, several hundred men at the Msheireb Downtown Doha construction site went on strike over the weekend and continue to remain off the job in a dispute over unpaid wages, a labor representative has said.

The employer, subcontractor Drake & Scull, told Doha News that the issue stemmed from a one-time delay in paying salaries because of new requirements under Qatar’s wage protection system.

Witnesses told Doha News that between 200 and 400 men stopped working at approximately 7am on Saturday. While most described the incident as a peaceful protest, others said some individuals aggressively confronted their supervisors.

Some men smashed air conditioning units and broke doors, said a Qatar-based representative of Building and Wood Worker’s International (BWI) – a trade union umbrella organization – who spoke to more than a half-dozen Drake & Scull employees who were involved in the protest.

The labor representative said the police were called in and helped mediate a temporary solution with managers by having the construction workers return to their accommodation in the Industrial Area.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

He said the workers – who hail from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Philippines – were told they would be paid by Thursday and are receiving food at their labor camp since many have run out of money to purchase their own provisions.

During previous visits to Qatar, BWI officials visited Msheireb as well as other sites. At the time, delegates said during a press conference that they were generally pleased with what they saw at Msheireb but found a “disturbing evidence of wrong practices” and a general “climate of fear” among migrant workers in Qatar.

More recently, BWI published an article on its website this month about the formation of several “support networks” for migrant workers in Qatar.

Strikes

Strikes – especially those involving a larger number of workers – are uncommon in Qatar, where authorities are highly sensitive to dissent among its large foreign workforce.

They have previously responded to protests with a show of force, such as at a short-lived riot at the under-renovation Sheraton Hotel in June 2014.

Riot police arrive in buses to the Sheraton Hotel.

Peter Kovessy / Doha News

Riot police arrive in buses to the Sheraton Hotel.

A handful of other work stoppages occurred that year, including a protest by Al Million taxi drivers and a strike by employees of two subcontracting firms that led to the deportation of some 100 construction workers.

This risk of punishment means a strike “is often a last resort” for expats in Qatar, Amnesty International researcher Mustafa Qadri told Doha News.

Meanwhile, questions remain about whether the workers involved in this weekend’s strike will be disciplined.

“Their assumption is that (they will be paid) and be deported,” the BWI representative said.

In a statement to Doha News, Msheireb Properties confirmed that the incident caused work to be temporarily suspended on a small part of the 76.6-acre site on Saturday and Sunday.

The company added that while the strike did not involve any workers directly employed by the developer, the firm is working with its contractors to resolve the dispute.

Unpaid wages

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Lesley Walker

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Delayed or unpaid wages are one of the most common complaints of blue-collar expats in Qatar, whose treatment has come under scrutiny as the country constructs stadiums, infrastructure and real estate developments in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup.

However, Drake & Scull said this incident was an anomaly for the company caused by the new wage protection system, which took effect earlier this month and requires employers to pay their workers electronically. It also mandates firms create a digital record of the payments.

In a statement, the company – which has operations across the Middle East and further afield – told Doha News:

“The integration of workers’ records into the system faced certain technical issues and incompatibilities which resulted in a delay of the transfer of payments…

Drake & Scull management engaged with the workers to address their concerns immediately. The delay in payments was an unanticipated and unprecedented occurrence for Drake & Scull Qatar and we have taken the necessary steps to prevent such a situation from arising in the future.”

How long the workers went without a paycheck is still in dispute.

The BWI representative said the men he spoke to were being paid QR1,600 monthly, which includes a food allowance.

Msheireb Properties is a part of Qatar Foundation, which has published minimum worker welfare standards that require its contractors to go beyond what’s set out in the law. The company said it is investigating the incident and has already met with the main contractor and subcontractor to identify how the dispute arose:

“Msheireb Properties is working closely with parties involved to ensure that this situation is resolved as soon as possible and in a satisfactory manner,” it said, adding that it contractually requires all contractors and suppliers to abide by Qatar’s laws.

“Msheireb Properties is taking this incident seriously and is firmly committed to stand against any form of exploitation, abuse or injustice.”

Thoughts?

The fire at a labor camp earlier this month.

Ijaz Khan

The fire at a labor camp earlier this month.

A dozen Sri Lankan expats displaced by a massive labor camp fire earlier this month have been arrested and are expected to be deported from Qatar after apparently refusing to go to work last week.

However, a spokesperson for their employer, Seven Group, said the arrested men were not punished for failing to report to work. Instead, they stand accused of setting fires in their new labor camp, and for blocking some of their colleagues from going to work and accessing food supplies.

The detained men were among some 400 expats living in Sailiya who lost most of their possessions in this month’s fire. There were unconfirmed reports that two men died in the fire, which one of the labor camp tenants said he believed was caused by an electrical fault.

A community leader with knowledge of the incident told Doha News that the arrested men were among more than 100 individuals who effectively quit their jobs after the accident.

Wishing for home

Speaking to Doha News, the Seven Group manager said approximately 150 employees asked to be sent home in the aftermath of the fire, but did not give a specific reason why they wanted to terminate their employment.

According to the community leader, the fire was the latest in a string of frustrations for the men, which included disagreements with their employer about overtime and visa renewals, among other issues.

Seven Group provides workers to clean and serve drinks in offices around Qatar, and has several long-term contracts with government entities. The manager said that faced with a sudden employee exodus, the company asked the men to stay on for a while longer as replacement workers were hired.

There were also logistical issues surrounding processing so many termination requests.

Hamad International Airport

Guilhem Vellu / Flickr

Hamad International Airport

“We don’t have a private plane to fly them (home),” he said.

He added that the 100 or so workers began protesting when they were not sent home immediately.

However, the community leader following this case said the employees had grown distrustful of their company and simply refused to return to work.

“They were not protesting … This has gone out of proportion,” he said.

According to an official from the Sri Lankan embassy, some 115 workers refused to show up for work on Thursday. That same day, police officers went to the camp and arrested 12 men. The embassy official said he was not aware why those specific men were targeted.

The labor camp fire earlier this month.

via Hazim Hamza

The labor camp fire earlier this month.

The Seven Group manager said the company would honor the requests of the workers who want to return home and would pay them their remaining wages and end-of-service benefits. He estimated that the company could repatriate around 100 expats a month.

Following the fire, the men were relocated to temporary accommodation in the Industrial Area for a day before being moved into a labor camp in Al Shahaniya in central Qatar.

An official from their embassy said he had inspected and approved the new housing.

“There’s no reason for them to refuse work, because the company provided them with good accommodations,” the embassy official said.

He said he did not know why the men were refusing the work.

Previous incidents

It’s remains unclear whether the police arrested the workers due to the the arson allegations or over the notion that the men were refusing to work, as strike action is considered illegal in Qatar.

Such labor action is a rare occurrence in Qatar. Local laws make it effectively impossible for non-Qataris to strike, and authorities are highly sensitive to dissent within its large foreign workforce.

A crowd gathers last November at the labor accommodations of hundreds of expats who have gone on strike over pay conditions.

Peter Kovessy

A crowd gathers last November at the labor accommodations of hundreds of expats who have gone on strike over pay conditions.

Nevertheless, there have been a handful of incidents in recent years, including Al Million taxi drivers protesting the daily fees they must pay their employer, as well as bus drivers refusing to shuttle students to school in September 2013 after their demands for higher wages and better treatment were denied.

And last November, roughly 100 construction workers were arrested in the Industrial Area after they went on strike.

The men told Doha News they were being paid less than they had been promised in their home country before they moved to Qatar.

Few options

Human rights advocates have previously argued that it should be easier for foreign workers in Qatar to file grievances and seek redress from their employers.

Lacking alternatives, low-income workers often feel they have no other option but to strike, Human Rights Watch researcher Nick McGeehan previously told Doha News.

MOLSA complaint machine

MOLSA/Twitter

MOLSA complaint machine

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has taken steps to address this by, for example, installing multilingual kiosks last summer at a half-dozen of its branches that allow individuals to lodge a complaint electronically.

Expats also have the option of filing a case in labor court, where they often receive a favorable ruling, US researcher Andrew Gardner said in a report late last year.

However, that’s only if they “make it to the finish line,” he said, noting that many individuals encounter hurdles in pursuing their case.

Challenges include understanding how to approach the justice system, language barriers, finding transportation to hearings and, in some cases, not having any income as their case proceeds.

Thoughts?