More than 100 migrant workers who went on strike in Qatar this week over low pay have been arrested and are being processed for deportation, according to their co-workers.
The men, who hail from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, are construction workers employed by two subcontracting companies – Qatar Freelance Trading and Contracting as well as Qatar Middle East Co. They worked on construction sites that included the recently renovated Sheraton Doha hotel.
Speaking to Doha News at their labor accommodations in the Industrial Area yesterday, some of the co-workers of those who were arrested said they also expected to be forced out of the country in the coming days.
They said police officers showed up in SUVs, accompanied by a company bus, to their camp around midday Monday after several hundred laborers refused to work for a third straight day.
The men said that when they resisted, a camp boss struck several workers with a piece of plastic pipe and started a scuffle.
The strike, which was first reported by Nepali daily Kantipur, apparently started when managers ordered the men to go to work on Friday evening, a day they typically have off.
While at the labor camp on Monday, Doha News observed that one of the supervisors there had a black eye and a fresh cut on his cheekbone that the workers said was inflicted in the melee. The man declined to discuss his injuries.
According to the employees, Friday’s incident was the final straw following grievances about their pay, accommodations and working conditions.
“I’m hard working, but the salary is not on time, the food is not good … and when people are sick, the company takes their pay,” one man told Doha News.
The workers estimated that roughly 800 people participated in the strike, although company managers say the figure was much lower.
In an unrelated posting, Qatar’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs tweeted a reminder of labor rules today, saying:
Meanwhile, the Indian embassy said yesterday afternoon that it was not aware of the strike situation, but would look into it. Several officials at the Nepal embassy confirmed they were familiar with the case, but declined to comment.
Several of the Nepali employees who spoke to Doha News said they signed a contract in their country that promised a monthly salary of QR1,200 (US$330) plus QR200 ($55) for food.
When they arrived in Qatar, the men said they were forced to relinquish their passports and sign a blank contract.
The practice of contract substitution, where workers sign an agreement in their home countries but are forced to accept lower wages when they arrive in Qatar, has been repeatedly documented and criticized by human rights organizations.
The pay ended up being QR600 ($165) for laborers and QR800 ($220) for tradespeople, plus the QR200 food allowance.
The men say their frustrations escalated earlier this month when some workers were not given their wages for October.
But their employer denies the accusation. Hamid Nawaz, the general manager of Qatar Freelance Trading and Contracting, said every worker had received his pay.
He told Doha News that between 50 and 60 employees refused to work because “they wanted (a higher) salary.” The rest, Nawaz added, were willing to continue working. He said he expected operations to return to normal later this week.
Nawaz added that those men who did not want to work had asked to be sent home, a request the company was honoring.
Strikes – especially those involving a larger number of workers – are a very rare occurrence in Qatar, which is highly sensitive to dissent among its large foreign workforce.
This is likely because local laws make it effectively impossible for non-Qataris to strike.
Another case with similarities to this week’s events took place in 2010 and gained international attention. At that time, some 90 foreign laborers working for al-Badar Construction Co. were arrested after going on strike, according to the US State Department.
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.
The company had refused to increased their wages by 10 percent as stipulated in the employees’ contracts, and instead cut monthly salaries by 35 percent to QR650 ($179).
The US government said the workers were jailed for several days and then deported. Those who had been at the company for less than two years had to pay their own airfare.
To avoid incidences like these, Nick McGeehan, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said employees in Qatar should have the legal right to strike.
However, he noted that many problems between workers and their employer could be solved if there were other ways for individuals to air their complaints.
“People in the Gulf states say (strikes) are unacceptable. But it’s inevitable … What are their other avenues for grievances? Often, they don’t have one,” McGeehan told Doha News.
Still, Qatar’s government has said it wants to make it easier for workers to seek redress for work-related problems.
While residents have the option of filing a case in labor court, for example, this is often used as a last resort by desperate individuals who can afford the QR600 fee they’re required to pay to have an expert review their case.
Over the summer, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs installed multilingual kiosks at six of its branches that allows workers to lodge a complaint electronically.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, McGeehan said UAE authorities react swiftly to cases of labor unrest and has engaged in mass deportations of workers.
He added that there, companies typically deal with labor unrest by going straight to the police, rather than attempt to actually resolve issues with their employees.
McGeehan said it is important for the police who respond to conduct a full investigation of the incident, including whether the employer is paying its workers and if its operations are in order.
“If they don’t, then the police are becoming a private security arm for the construction sector,” he said.
“Qatar hasn’t reached (that) level of aggressiveness,” he said. But “this (case) is disturbing, and would suggest that Qatar wants to go down that repressive path.”
If they dont like it here they can leave.
In a coffin?
it was not the main issue.. try to wash your brain bud… and read the article again…
Do you think the government doesn’t know what’s happening?I am afraid exploitation is one of the policies of most of the companies in Qatar.They would do it again and again to flourish their company with some poor labourer’s sweat.They know that they are snatching away poor man’s bread to feed their children chocolate and ride in SUV’s or fancy cars. Can you sleep well with a stabilized conscience knowing very well that you are living on someones’ hard labor and say ” Thank You God”?
Such a fine country. Slaving pigs.
Ofcourse, when a worker refuses to work the police get there in record speed to arrest the laborers. When laborers stop getting paid for months the police don’t or can’t do a thing to the owners who are breaking the law.
To the Emir of Qatar:
I know you are perceived as the “God” that no one can criticize or even attemp to address for anything negative. I also know that people are scared to let you know how they truly feel because of the punishment that awaits them. I would like to tell you 3 words only.
“Shame on you”
share your experience of working slavery in qatar at behindqatar.blogspot.com
I have seen with my own eyes situations just like these in Kuwait in the Emirates in KSA and the government in these countries act in direct contempt of quran and hadith, treat mumin like slaves they bought and refuse them the guarantees god gives us in Islam. And then lie. Mohammed saws says such liars will not see heaven. They are not of Mohammed’s saws umma according to his saws teaching. but of course, if I were in Doha, you would jail and torture me for saying so. god save us.
At first i thought..oh look another Qatar bashing…this should get interesting. Then i saw you shot yourself in the foot. If you listen very carefully you can hear Hitchens’ slap coming your way.
qatar deserves, earns all the bashing it can get, along with all those who enable it to kill so many workers sent back home in body bags because of inhumane working conditions. i lived and worked in the Gulf and I’ve been practicing Islam well before most of the officials there were born who deny fellow muslims the human rights god gives them. The people of the Prophet Salih were buried in sand for denying the rights of the poor. in suratul baqara god defines justice as the rights of the poor including the rights of prisoners and captives. those who deny justice deny the very essence of Islam and god promises the outcome. who or what Hitchens is or how Hitchins slaps really does not matter. those who believe god won’t care will learn like we all will. There is nothing more obscene and nothing more unIslamic than the way Qatar as a nation exploits non Qatari laborers: the sin of Sodom and Gomorra. So make fun of it. Laugh. Quran is clear about the outcome.
I rest my case.
In Saudi Arabia they misspelled my name and when I showed them on official saudi and official swiss websites how my family name is spelled in Arabic, i received an official warning that they not me know what my father’s name is not me. Among my relatives are Swiss international award winning scholars scientists and manufacturers on the Saudi Nobel Prize website and other Arab language websites where my family name is spelled “Kw7R” not “Kwsher” [koxr not kosher] but thy insisted i did not know my own father’s name. I wrote back that this official warning defames my mother’s honor. Which the Saudi’s did not appreciate. My good luck not being South Asian was all that kept my head on my shoulders. They are as arrogant as any IS. god is greater and their final destiny is guaranteed.
I use my real name. i don’t need to hide behind a phony name. and I don’t need to bash others whom i don’t know on forums hiding behind a pseudonym.
time to boycott qatar for international sport olympics football asian games horseracing whatever. boycott.
Hey ! who deleted my comment