New research by Amnesty International published today claims hundreds of migrant workers in Qatar are going unpaid, despite the country's repeated promises to improve workers' rights ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The 52-page report – All work, no pay: The struggle of Qatar’s migrant workers for justice – shows how several hundred migrant workers employed by three construction and cleaning companies were forced to return home penniless.
It is believed the true scale of the problem is likely to be far bigger, with the United States Department of State estimating that more than 6,000 workers submitted complaints to Qatar's new Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes during 2018 alone.
Since March last year, Amnesty International states more than 2,000 people working for Hamton International, Hamad bin Khaled bin Hamad and United Cleaning have been seeking justice, after the companies stopped paying wages for several months – citing financial difficulties – before ceasing operation and ending their contracts.
The companies were working on a range of construction projects and cleaning contracts.
At least 1,620 workers submitted complaints to the Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes.
While some were eventually given part of what was owed in exchange for dropping their cases, it is claimed most went home with nothing and none received compensation through the Committee system.
Amnesty International wrote to all three companies to present its findings, but says it received no response.
"Despite significant promises of reform which Qatar has made ahead of the 2022 World Cup, it remains a playground for unscrupulous employers," Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International's deputy director of global issues, said.
"Migrant workers often go to Qatar in the hope of giving their families a better life – instead many people return home penniless after spending months chasing their wages, with too little help from the systems that are supposed to protect them.
"Migrant workers in Qatar too often face an impossible choice between long and often fruitless efforts to seek justice, or returning to their families without the money needed to support them.
"We are urging the Qatari authorities to fully deliver what has been promised and end the shameful reality of labour exploitation.
"If Qatar is serious about meeting its promises to improve workers' rights, it must provide more judges to ensure cases are heard rapidly, fully finance the compensation fund, and ensure companies that break the rules face justice."
The Qatari Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs said it helped to negotiate many of the settlements and provided food and generators at workers' camps.
While Qatari law states that the Committees are supposed to issue judgements on cases within six weeks of a complaint, Amnesty found that workers had to wait between three and eight months.
In the meantime, it is claimed they lived without income in labour camps lacking sufficient food or running water, facing an impossible choice over whether to go home or fight on.
In November 2017, Qatari authorities passed new laws to improve workers' rights after signing an agreement with the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations agency.
Those changes included ending the "kafala" sponsorship system, which ties workers to their employers for up to five years and prevents some groups of workers – such as domestic workers – from leaving the country without their employers' permission.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on Qatar to abolish the "kafala" sponsorship system.
The FIFA World Cup in Qatar is due to take place from November 21 to December 18, 2022.
A FIFA spokesman told insidethegames: "In line with our human rights policy, FIFA and its partners involved in the preparation of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar take workers' rights very seriously as it has been acknowledged by different international organisations in the recent past.
"We would like to note that, as confirmed by Amnesty International, the report does not concern FIFA World Cup sites.
"The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy has also confirmed that the contractors referenced in the report have never been engaged on FIFA World Cup projects in Qatar.
"In line with Amnesty International, we however acknowledge the importance of the new Labour Dispute Committee as an important part of the broader labour rights reforms taking place in Qatar.
"We know that the Qatari authorities are working intensely in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation and other stakeholders with a view to further improve the effectiveness of this complex but vital mechanism.
"FIFA continues to engage with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy and other parties towards ensuring respect for the rights of workers who are involved in FIFA World Cup-related activities.
"Whenever an issue is identified within that scope, FIFA follows-up with its Qatari counterparts through the appropriate channels."