100 World Cup stadium workers in Qatar not paid for 7 months: Amnesty

Artist's impression of the completed Al Bayt Stadium. — courtesy LOC FIFA
Artist's impression of the completed Al Bayt Stadium. — courtesy LOC FIFA

LONDON — Exploitation of labor is still ongoing in Qatar with a recent Amnesty International statement revealing that migrant workers employed on a construction project for a FIFA World Cup stadium in Qatar worked for up to seven months without pay.

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.

Al Bayt Stadium, one of Qatar 2022’s ‘crown jewels’, is expected to stage one of the semifinals. The irony of the situation was that despite months of non-payment, the world’s soccer governing body FIFA was apparently unaware of the issue until last month.

The Amnesty report indicated that the rights body had interviewed current and former employees of QMC and reviewed court records and contracts to establish the full extent of the non-payment.

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.

Amnesty said, that this week, after it had raised the QMC case with the Qatari authorities, FIFA, and Qatar’s World Cup organizing 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 organizers 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 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 labor 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 aluminum 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.

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 Labor.

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 June 7, 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 Labor but has not received a reply.

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. — SG