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Unpaid foreign workers ‘starving’ at glitzy Qatar development
December 21, 2013, 9:12 am

More than 80 foreign workers at one of Qatar’s most prestigious developments are facing serious food shortages after not being paid for almost a year, a report from a lobbyist group said.

An investigation by Amnesty International into the plight of migrant labour at the Al Bidda Tower in Doha’s financial district found that the workers were owed approximately QR1.5m ($412,000) by their employer Lee Trading and Contracting (LTC).

Amnesty International, which visited the workers’ accommodation in Al Sailiya last month, said that their situation amounted to forced labour, with those affected currently forbidden from leaving the Gulf state, which in 2022 will host the FIFA World Cup.

“They have not had been paid for nearly a year and can’t even buy food to sustain themselves on a day-to-day basis. They also can’t afford to send money back home to their families or to pay off debts,” Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said in a statement.

“The Qatari government must step in now and end this crisis. The men have told us they simply want to collect the unpaid wages they are owed and to leave the country. The Ministries of Labour and Interior must deliver that as soon as possible. Doing so will signal that the government really means what it says about protecting workers’ rights,” Shetty added.

Amnesty said that living conditions for the group, who come from countries including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, were grim, with many sleeping on hard wooden floors in structurally unstable buildings.

They had originally been employed by LTC to fit out two floors of the Al Bidda Tower, which is known as Qatar’s "home of football’, due to the number of organisations related to the sport that are based there.

The project was completed in October 2013, but Amnesty said that the workers had still not been paid, although precisely why not was not immediately apparent.

Due to Qatar’s sponsorship system, the employees are not permitted to find alternative work or leave the country without the consent of LTC.

One worker told Amnesty that his sister in Nepal had committed suicide due to financial problems exacerbated by his non-payment of wages.

All of the workers have filed cases against LTC at the Qatari capital’s Labour Court in a bid to reclaim their wages, but proceedings have been unable to progress as they cannot afford the QR600 fee each for an expert report to be commissioned into the case.

They told Amnesty that the court rejected their request for the fees to be waived, despite Qatar’s labour law stating that workers should be exempt from judicial fees.

The stranded workers said that they had previously halted work on the site in August, but had been threatened with jail by an LTC representative. They had been receiving QR250 food allowance from LTC, but this ceased in October, they told Amnesty.

They now say they are being forced to borrow money to purchase food.

An LTC representative told Amnesty International that they denied the workers’ allegations.

The rights of migrant workers in Qatar, which in 2010 was awarded the right to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, have repeatedly been called into question by human rights organisations.

The country is expected to spend up to $200bn on infrastructure in the years prior to the football tournament and is heavily reliant on foreign labour, mainly recruited from countries in South and South-East Asia.

Authorities in Qatar have vowed to improve the lot of migrant workers, including blacklisting companies that do not pay their staff on time.

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