DOHA (Reuters) - Hundreds of migrant workers in Qatar have gone without pay and many were forced to return to their home countries without compensation, despite recent reforms intended to improve worker rights, a report from Amnesty International said on Thursday.
Since being named host of World Cup 2022, Qatar has come under fire for what rights groups describe as poor labour conditions. It has responded by enacting a broad reform programme to guard worker rights and improve its image abroad.
The Gulf state relies on about 2 million migrant workers for the bulk of its labour force, mainly from Asian countries like Nepal, India and the Philippines.
It has scrapped exit visas for most workers, implemented a minimum wage, and established dispute resolution committees to fast-track complaints of unpaid wages.
But a new report from Amnesty International describes how hundreds of workers still can’t recover unpaid salaries, despite the resolution committees.
“Despite the significant promises of reform which Qatar has made ahead of the 2022 World Cup, it remains a playground for unscrupulous employers,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Global Issues, Stephen Cockburn.
Responding to the report, Qatar said it continues “to work with NGOs, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), to ensure that these reforms are far-reaching and effective,” according to a statement from its government communications office.
“Any issues or delays with our systems will be addressed comprehensively. We have said, from the outset, that this would take time, resources and commitment,” it said.
The report documents three Qatari companies that allegedly failed to pay more than 2,000 workers, leading 1,620 of them to submit complaints to the Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes.
The workers were employed by companies involved in construction and cleaning services but not directly related to World Cup projects, according to the report.
“While some of them were eventually given part of what they were owed by their employers in exchange for dropping their cases, most went home with nothing. None of the workers received compensation through the committee system,” the report said.
The Qatari Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs told Amnesty International that they had helped negotiate many of these settlements and coordinated provision of food and generators to workers’ camps.
The ILO dropped a case against Qatar in 2017 over its treatment of workers, partly because of its reform pledges. The United Nations agency later opened an office in Doha to help carry out the new measures.
One of the reforms, a support fund for worker compensation announced in October 2018, “remains unfunded and unused, despite the urgent need,” the Amnesty report said.
The government said later on Thursday that the report’s description of the compensation fund was inaccurate and that the fund had “already intervened in numerous cases to resolve issues facing guest workers”.
Reporting by Eric Knecht, editing by Larry King and Catherine Evans