Migrant workers in Qatar World Cup city ‘owed thousands of dollars in wages’
The company at the center of the allegations, Mercury MENA, is involved in the construction of key infrastructure in Lusail – a $45 billion ‘future city’ being built in time for the 2022 World Cup, when it will host the opening game and final at a new 80,000-seater stadium.
Amnesty International says it spoke to scores of migrants working on the project – which will ultimately see the city become home to 260,000 people – who have been left desperately out of pocket after failing to be paid.
The activist group says it interviewed 78 former Mercury MENA employees from India, Nepal and the Philippines, with 34 of them owed an average of $2,035 each – a substantial amount based on average salaries in their home countries.
Many of the workers took out loans to make the trip to Qatar for what they thought would be lucrative pay, only to have since become stranded and forced to stay in squalid conditions, according to Amnesty official Steve Cockburn.
“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,” Cockburn said.
“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.”
He called on the Qatari government to help the workers and “show that it is serious about improving workers’ rights.”
The report drew attention to the plight of one migrant worker from the Philippines, who said: “I’m imagining things during [the World Cup]… People from all over the world cheering, laughing, touring some of the beautiful stadiums, recreational sites and hotels here… Will they ever think ‘what are the stories behind those structures?’”
Mercury MENA’s CEO admitted cash flow problems to Amnesty in 2017, but denied the exploitation of workers. The company has not commented on the issue since then, according to Amnesty.
The Qatari government has said that the company was involved in building city infrastructure but not the World Cup stadium itself, and said the issue would be investigated.
“Currently there are legal proceedings underway concerning Mercury MENA,” read a statement from the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, the BBC reported.
“While Mercury MENA no longer operates in Qatar, legal matters will continue and we will conduct a full investigation. We will address any existing issues or violations and remedy any remaining matters,” it added.
FIFA, meanwhile, has said: "We have no reason to believe the reported violations of workers' rights are in fact linked to FIFA and the 2022 World Cup.”
Qatar recently amended its residency laws to allow most foreign workers to leave the country without exit permits from their employers, in a bid to show it is tackling allegations of worker exploitation.
Despite the step, Amnesty said: “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.”
Qatar’s World Cup preparations have been beset by scandal, with reports of worker deaths at construction sites and accusations of exploitation.
There are also claims of bribery and subterfuge in Qatar being awarded the tournament in 2010 – including accusations that the bid team employed former CIA agents to undermine the chances of competing nations Australia and the United States.