Between allowing protests and cleaning up the supply chain
Earlier this month, hundreds of workers from two companies in Qatar took to the streets to protest months of unpaid wages. Bystanders who shared images of the protest seemed to be taken by surprise, as though delayed salaries and poor working conditions are common, public protests are not – strikes and any form of unionisation are not permitted in the country.
I’ve got some resources pic.twitter.com/tF4dX3PDXD
— عُهُود ❄️ (@_ahxxd) August 5, 2019
Journalist Benjamin Best, who first reported the story, shared earlier social media posts from one of the companies, Iskan Trading and Contracting, which publicly disclosed the company’s financial troubles. Yet, the issue only received attention from officials after the protests.
2. ISKAN wrote on Facebook in March & April that they can't pay salaries and workers should change to other companies. Why didn't the relevant authorities notice this and acted accordingly? 3. Why didn't the Wage Protection System notice the non-payment of salaries? @GCOQatar pic.twitter.com/EnL2nIvjFu
— Benjamin Best (@bpbest) August 18, 2019
According to Human Rights Watch’s report:
“One migrant worker at a Qatari company that provides maintenance, cleaning, plumbing, and other services, told Human Rights Watch that he and between 800 and 1,000 other employees refused to report to work on August 5, 2019. The employee said there had been repeated threats from management to deport the workers if they refused to sign new contracts substantially reducing their wages.”
A statement released by the Qatar Government Communication Office said that salaries were not paid due to ‘negative cash flow’ and that authorised signatories from the two companies have been arrested. Workers have reportedly been paid their dues and permitted to change employers if they wish.
The statement did not clarify the numbers of workers affected or the duration of salary delay or explain why the Wage Protection System (WPS) failed to flag the non-payment for so many months.
While the government reiterated a commitment to improving the WPS and raising awareness of existing complaints mechanisms, it has not indicated intentions of improving the complaints and redressal process itself; though the complaints system was recently reformed, it continues to suffer from long delays and major accessibility gaps. Furthermore, compensation remains limited to owed wages and does not account for the time and money lost during the delay.