Qatar’s building and construction sector is rife with abuse, with workers employed on multi-million dollar projects being forced to work in dangerous conditions, having passports withheld, not being paid promised salaries and being forced to work in jobs different to what they had been promised, a new report says.

As work is set to begin on stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup report released by Amnesty International describes complex contractual chains and uncovers what it says are widespread and routine abuses of migrant workers – in some cases amounting to forced labour.

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It took Bhupendra, a migrant worker from Nepal, two years to win compensation for a workplace accident that left him permanently disabled.

Based upon interviews with 210 construction workers and 79 workers from other sectors as well as officials and employers, it describes conditions faced by migrant workers (many from India and Nepal) as including.

  • arriving in Qatar to different jobs and working conditions than they had been promised (including lower salaries)
  • having pay withheld for months or not being paid at all
  • being left ‘undocumented’ and at risk of being detained by authorities
  • having their passports confiscated and being prevented from leaving the country
  • being made to work excessive (sometimes extreme) hours, often in unsafe conditions
  • being housed in squalid accommodation.

A group of Krantz Engineering workers who helped build the Ras Laffan Emergency and Safety College campus north of Doha, for example, stopped work in November last year having been paid only one month’s salary since July – their employer refusing for several months after that to issue passports to allow them to return home and threatening them with reduced pay if the stop-work action continued.

In another case, researchers witnessed eleven men being forced to sign papers in front of government officials falsely confirming they had received wages in order to get their passports back and leave the country.

The report follows an earlier survey last year by Qatar National Research Fund which found that nine in ten migrant workers (which make up 94 percent of the total workforce) had their passports held by their employers whilst one in five did not have salaries paid on time and 15 percent worked in a different job than promised.

It also follows warnings from the International Trade Union Federation that up to 4,000 workers could die on World Cup projects unless practices such as 12-hour days in searing heat are not improved.

Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty says the situation is appalling.

“It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world, that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive” Sheety says calling on major companies to ensure workers on their projects are not being exploited.

“Construction companies and the Qatari authorities alike are failing migrant workers.”

To resolve the situation, Amnesty has called on the government to repeal laws which prevent migrants from either changing jobs or leaving the country without their employer’s permission, overhaul the migrant sponsorship system, beef up labour law enforcement efforts and set up a cross-government unit tasks with coordinating speedy resolution to cases where workers are not able to leave the country and are not getting paid.

The organisation also called on major companies to ensure workers on their projects are not abused and on FIFA to send a strong message that worker abuse will not be tolerated.

“Unless critical, far-reaching steps are taken immediately, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who will be recruited in the coming years to deliver Qatar’s vision face a high risk of being abused” Sheety says.

“There’s no time to delay.”