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CONTRACTOR Mercury MENA, which is involved in building the marquee stadium for Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup, did not pay its workers, leaving them stranded thousands of miles from home, according to a report released today.
The engineering and plumbing firm owes thousands in pounds of wages to workers from countries where many live on less than £1.50 a day, Amnesty International said.
Those employees helped build projects, including Qatar’s Lusail Stadium, which will host the opening and closing matches of the football tournament.
The company, whose website is now down and offices in Doha are shuttered, has not responded to requests for comment.
Qatar’s government said it was investigating, but similar complaints involving the abuse of foreign workers have been common for years in both Doha and other oil-rich nations of the Persian Gulf.
“People from all over the world cheering, laughing, touring some of the beautiful stadiums, recreational sites and hotels here … Will they ever think what are the stories behind those structures?” one worker reportedly asked Amnesty.
“I guess not … Blind eyes are common nowadays.”
Amnesty said it had examined the cases of 78 former employees of Mercury MENA, interviewing 44 and analysing documentation of another 34. Of those, 58 came from Nepal, 15 from India and five from the Philippines, Asian nations that send thousands of labourers, taxi drivers and office workers to the Gulf.
Mercury MENA worked on several projects in Qatar, including the stadium, the new Qatar National Library and a hospital and modern accommodation for labourers, Amnesty said.
Workers told Amnesty that the firm owed them on average between £1,039 to £1,873, a huge sum for their families back home. It said one worker was owed nearly £18,959 after over a decade of work.
Some workers found themselves stuck in Qatar without money and unable to leave the country as local laws require workers to get an exit permit supported by their employer before they leave.
Earlier this month, Qatar partially ended that requirement, part of its internationally criticised “kafala” system that ties expatriate workers to a single employer.
However, Amnesty refutes that claim.
“The exit permit is just one key of Qatar’s notorious ‘kafala’ sponsorship system. This system has fuelled widespread abuse and exploitation of migrant workers, including forced labour,” Amnesty said.
“Although today most workers no longer need their employers’ permission to leave the country, they still need a ‘non-objection certificate’ from their employer to change jobs in Qatar. Many employers refuse to provide such certificates and workers are forced to stay until their contracts finish, which can be up to five years.
“Workers who leave their jobs without employer permission can be reported for ‘absconding,’ attracting a criminal charge that could lead to arrest and deportation. This is in contravention of international labour laws and standards.”
Amnesty said Mercury MENA’s chief executive told them in 2017 that his firm “had been the victim of unscrupulous business partners resulting in ‘cashflow problems’ and a number of disputes over payments with contractors and clients.”
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