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Qatar seeks to address latest World Cup worker claims

The Qatari government has said it is investigating claims made in an Amnesty International report which state scores of migrant workers have been left unpaid from their labour on infrastructure connected to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, including the showpiece Lusail Stadium.

Amnesty said that engineering company Mercury MENA exploited Qatar’s notorious sponsorship system, failing to pay its workers thousands of dollars in wages and work benefits, leaving them stranded in the country.

The organisation is calling for the Qatari government to ensure former employees of Mercury MENA, which has now ceased operating in Qatar, receive the money they earned, and to fundamentally reform the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system. The controversial policy has come under severe scrutiny since Qatar implemented its major infrastructure drive after being awarded hosting rights to the football showpiece.

Steve Cockburn, director of global issues at Amnesty International, said: “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.

“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 to rebuild their lives and show that it is serious about improving workers’ rights.”

Between October 2017 and April 2018, Amnesty International said it interviewed 78 former Mercury MENA employees from India, Nepal and the Philippines. In Nepal, where more than a third of the population lives on less than $2 (£1.50/€1.70) a day, Amnesty International interviewed 34 people who are owed, on average, $2,035 each.

Amnesty said Mercury MENA had played an important part in the development of Lusail Stadium (pictured in June), which will host the final and opening game of the 2022 World Cup, as well as other projects in the wider ‘Future City’ of Lusail masterplan.

Most of the former Mercury MENA employees interviewed by Amnesty International were owed between $1,370 and $2,470 in salaries and benefits. The report added that some workers were unable to leave the country as local laws require an exit permit supported by an employer. This part of the kafala system was partially ended this month.

Cockburn added: “There is a major opportunity for Qatar to transform its record on workers’ rights ahead of the 2022 World Cup, and providing full compensation to Mercury MENA’s workers would be an important sign that the authorities are willing to grasp it. With many former employees already considering migrating again to pay off debts, there is no time to waste.

“Sadly, the exploitation of migrant workers by Mercury MENA is not an isolated case. We will continue to pressure the Qatar authorities until promises of overhauling the sponsorship system are delivered, and workers’ rights are fully protected both in law and practice.”

In a statement reported by the Associated Press news agency, Qatar’s Labour Ministry said such abuse of workers is “not tolerated” in the country and that there are unspecified “legal proceedings” against Mercury MENA.

“While Mercury MENA no longer operates in Qatar, legal matters will continue and we will conduct a full investigation,” the statement said.

Image: Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC)