LONDON: Amnesty International’s latest update on preparations for the 2022 World Cup claims that hundreds of migrant workers in Qatar are going unpaid despite repeated promises to improve their rights ahead of the tournament.

A 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.

Amnesty says the true scale of the problem is likely to be far bigger, with the US State Department estimating that more than 6,000 workers submitted complaints to Qatar’s new Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes during last year alone.

Last October, Qatar announced it would introduce a Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund to provide compensation. Almost a year later it remains unfunded and unused, despite the urgent need.

Amnesty said: “Qatar hosts about two million migrant workers, but it still does not meet international labour standards. Amnesty has repeatedly called on Qatar to abolish the abusive “kafala” 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.”

A statement continued:

Since March last year, 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, most went home with nothing and none received compensation through the committee system (see testimonies below).

The Qatari Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs told Amnesty 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, 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.

Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Global Issues, said: “Despite the significant promises of reform which Qatar has made ahead of the 2022 World Cup, it remains a playground for unscrupulous employers.

“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.

“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.”

Amnesty wrote to all three companies to present its findings, but received no response.