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Qatar security guards trapped in ‘forced labour’: Amnesty

Doha (AFP) – The UN labour agency joined Amnesty International Thursday in calling on World Cup hosts Qatar to protect thousands of security guards who a report said were victims of “forced labour”.

Guards posted at World Cup stadiums, ministries and offices often had to work months, sometimes years, without a day off, Amnesty said in a study.

Qatar, where the World Cup starts on November 21, insists it has cracked down on hundreds of “unscrupulous” companies, but acknowledged that abuses still take place.

An army of migrant labourers from Africa and Asia work as poorly paid guards across the tiny emirate whose energy wealth has fuelled a construction boom. Thousands more are being taken on for the World Cup. 

Amnesty said 34 current or former guards it interviewed “described routinely working 12 hours a day, seven days a week — often for months or even years on end without a day off”. One Bangladeshi guard said he did not get a day off for three years.

“Physically and emotionally exhausted, workers kept reporting for duty under threat of financial penalties — or worse, contract termination or deportation,” said Stephen Cockburn, an Amnesty researcher.

Those who took a legal weekly day off often had wages cut, Amnesty added. Guards also lost money for taking a toilet break without getting cover, taking a day off sick or just wearing their uniform “improperly”.

The men complained that they had to work outside in Qatar’s notorious summer, when temperatures hit 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

Guards from Uganda and Kenya said they had more jobs in the heat and received lower wages than other nationalities.

– Work or deportation –

Following previous criticism, Qatar in 2017 introduced a minimum wage, cut the hours that can be worked in heat and ended part of a system which forced migrant workers to seek employers’ permission to change jobs or even leave the country.

But Amnesty said there is still a “massive power imbalance” between employers and migrant workers in Qatar, where trade unions are banned.

“Qatar’s laws on working time for security guards are clear but are too often violated,” said Max Tunon, head of the UN’s International Labour Organisation office in Doha.

Overtime must be “voluntary, limited and paid at a higher rate” in line with the law, he added.

In a veiled reference to World Cup organisers and other major Qatari enterprises, Tunon said: “Clients contracting security companies should do their due diligence and monitor the treatment of guards, including their working hours and living conditions.”

Qatar’s World Cup Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy confirmed that three security companies involved in last year’s Club World Cup and FIFA Arab Cup tournaments had been “blacklisted” from future projects.

The three were found to be in “completely unacceptable” breaches of its Workers Welfare Standards.

The committee said that in all, seven contractors had been blacklisted from its projects and more than 220 were on a watchlist. Fifty companies had been blocked by the labour ministry from World Cup projects.

The committee said there will always be “contractors attempting to beat the system, regardless of stringent regulations or monitoring.”

The labour ministry said cases of abuse were falling and the Amnesty report had ignored progress made in Qatar since it was awarded the World Cup in 2010. “The reality is that no other country has come so far so quickly, but for some the pace of change will never be fast enough.”

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