Qatar World Cup workers unpaid for months: AI

Kathmandu, September 26

A new investigation by Amnesty International has exposed how an engineering company involved in building infrastructure linked to the 2022 FIFA World Cup took advantage of Qatar’s notorious sponsorship system to exploit scores of migrant workers.

The company, Mercury MENA, failed to pay its workers thousands of dollars in wages and work benefits, leaving them stranded and penniless in Qatar. AI has called on the Qatari government to ensure former employees of Mercury MENA receive the money they earned, and to fundamentally reform the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system that has allowed numerous companies to exploit migrant workers, as documented by AI and others since 2013. “In 2017, the Qatari government was applauded after announcing a programme of labour reforms. But even as this agreement was being signed, scores of Mercury MENA employees were stranded without pay in squalid accommodation, wondering where their next meal would come from and if they’d ever be able to return home to their families,” said Steve Cockburn, director of Global Issues at AI.

“Many Mercury MENA employees had made huge sacrifices and taken out ruinous loans to take jobs in Qatar. They ended up working unpaid for months on end and were let down by a system which failed to protect them. By ensuring they get the wages which they are owed, Qatar can help these migrant workers rebuild their lives and show that it is serious about improving workers’ rights,” he said.

Between October 2017 and April 2018, AI interviewed 78 former Mercury MENA employees from India, Nepal and the Philippines, who are owed huge sums by the company. In Nepal, where more than a third of the population lives on less than US$ 2 a day, AI interviewed 34 people who are owed, on average US$ 2,035 each.

At the end of 2017, 34 male Nepali migrants returned home from Qatar penniless and overloaded with debt. The workers found themselves working for months without salaries or proper legal documentation on infrastructure projects with links to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, AI said.

It has shown how the human rights abuses faced by these Mercury MENA workers began in Nepal, with the Nepali authorities failing in their obligation to prevent the illegal conduct of recruitment agencies and close gaps in the law. With most workers forced to pay illegally high fees to Nepali recruitment agencies for their jobs, taking out high-interest loans to do so, they left Nepal heavily indebted and less able to challenge or escape their abuse once in Qatar. Once in difficulty, stranded without food or wages, the authorities neglected their calls for help and failed to help them access remedies at home or abroad, AI said.

Almost a year after their return from Qatar, many of the workers are still struggling with their debts, and all remain without the salaries and benefits they are owed. AI said it is calling on the new government in Nepal, in place since February 2018, to deliver on its promises to better safeguard the rights of migrant workers, by reforming and enforcing its foreign employment laws to end the exploitation of their nationals at home and abroad.

According to the report, the money that workers have lost through as a result of abusive recruitment practices and non-payment of wages continues to have a devastating impact on their families’ access to health care, adequate housing and education. Some of these workers, now unemployed and with huge debts, face the risk of losing their land and homes.