Home International Qatar football World Cup: For many migrant workers, glitter on contract, grime on the ground

Qatar football World Cup: For many migrant workers, glitter on contract, grime on the ground

Indian workers who have returned from Qatar, and the families of those who have died there while working for companies linked to the FIFA World Cup, say their contracts are silent on insurance and compensation in case of death or accident.

by News Desk
0 comment

Eight-hour work shifts. Two hours of overtime to “meet workload obligations”. Additional payment of 125 per cent for working extra hours on a regular day, and 150 per cent on weekends. Food, transport and accommodation provided by employers, along with a medical card. Twenty-one days of paid leave in the first two years, which would be doubled after that. And, after completing two years, an economy class return air ticket from Doha to the international airport closest to a worker’s hometown in India.

On paper, these are the key terms and benefits listed in a standard contract for a migrant worker availing employment with a company in Qatar, which is hosting the football World Cup next month. The average salary offered is 1200 Qatari riyals, or about Rs 27,000. Most of those who sign up are from rural areas where employment opportunities are limited, and the Government’s job guarantee scheme offers upto 100 days of work in a year with the maximum annual earnings on an average about Rs 21,500.

But Indian workers who have returned from the Gulf state, and the families of those who have died there while working for companies linked to the tournament, say the ground reality is far removed from the glitter on the contract they signed.

For one, they say, their contracts are silent on insurance and compensation in case of death or accident. And that the Gulf country’s opaque labour laws have made it very difficult to make legitimate claims.

banner

This, despite The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the Qatari body responsible for organising the World Cup, urging employers at least three years ago to purchase life insurance for workers to ensure their families receive compensation regardless of location or cause of death.

Moreover, workers who have returned from World Cup projects say they were made to toil for long hours in harsh weather conditions, provided unsanitary accommodation, and had to work in unsafe conditions at construction sites.

“After landing there, we submitted our passports to employers. We woke up at 3 am or 4 am every day so we could start work at 5 am, before the temperatures increased. Normally, our work ended around 6 pm. Often, we did not get a chance to take a break. Fridays used to be our day off but the entire day was spent recovering so you couldn’t do anything else,” said Sravan Velmal, who worked for a construction company in Doha along with his father Ramesh. Velmal returned home after Ramesh died in Doha of heart failure.

It was over the last decade, after Qatar won the rights to host the World Cup, that the nation emerged as a preferred destination in the middle east for Indian workers. In 2020, Indians comprised 42 per cent of the 17,639 workers of 69 nationalities who worked on projects overseen by the Supreme Committee, according to the panel’s workers’ welfare compliance report. In July, the Ministry of External Affairs submitted in Lok Sabha that of the 1,29,260 Indians who migrated to Gulf countries in 2021, 49,579 went to Qatar — the most among the lot.

A majority of these workers are employed either at World Cup sites or in the service industry that is gearing to cater to millions of visitors during the tournament — from stadiums and highways to marinas.

And for many of them, the journey began with exploitation at the start of the migration cycle. According to Government rules, recruitment agents are allowed to charge up to Rs 30,000, in addition to 18 per cent GST, for their services. Further, the cost of air tickets and visa fees has to be borne by the employers.

However, family members of several of the workers who died in Qatar say they paid exorbitant fees to agents, going up to Rs 1.5 lakh. “Hence, workers endure challenging conditions in Qatar just so that they can wipe off their debts. The workers are aware that if they return, there aren’t many employment opportunities back home,” said Velmal.

This migration cycle begins when an employer raises a “demand” by submitting an official request to the Indian embassy in Doha, said Bheem Reddy Mandha, president of the Emigrants Welfare Forum and a member of the Migrant Forum in Asia. Once a demand letter is submitted, enlisting job requirements and employee benefits, the information is uploaded on a Government web portal, setting into motion the recruitment process.

A common pitfall, Mandha said, is workers approach a sub-agent, who charges his own commission, thus inflating costs. “This happens because most agencies that are registered with the Government are in cities like Hyderabad and Mumbai, which are far away from the villages of the workers,” Mandha said.

In normal course, a recruitment drive is held in districts that are identified as catchment areas. In March, The Indian Express visited one of these recruitment drives at Metpally in Telangana’s Jagtial district, where around 200 men were being interviewed for the job of cleaner at buildings to accommodate World Cup visitors.

“When FIFA World Cup-related activities started, the requirement of workers in Qatar increased along with the salaries,” Masula Praveen, a labour agent, said. “Every day we get new requests. Most of these contracts are till the World Cup since there isn’t much requirement after the event is over.”

A key criterion for selection, Praveen said, is the worker’s willingness and ability to work under strict rules. Sometimes, he said, a candidate is made to commit, on video, that he will work for at least six months at a company. “If the person returns to India within six months, the company imposes a fine of up to Rs 50,000 on us,” he said.

Once a candidate is finalised, his passport is submitted to the Protector of Emigrants (PoE) for emigration clearance in India. “Each and every name will be recorded and uploaded on the Government website with all details, including passport copy, photographs and labour contracts. This can be retrieved at any time by the authorities,” Mandha said.

This process was followed in almost all the cases analysed by The Indian Express. However, once in Qatar, the workers are mostly left to fend for themselves.

International human rights watchdogs have accused Qatari authorities of failing to investigate the cause of deaths. In one case, after reaching Qatar, a worker — Rajendra Mandaloji, a carpenter — was presented with a contract that paid about half of what he was promised in salary, his wife Sucharita said. This practice, called ‘Substitution of Contract’, is very common, Mandha said. The stress of a low-paying job and heavy debts took such a toll that, in September 2019, Mandaloji died by suicide.

A majority of workers have died due to reasons described on their death certificates as “natural causes”. “While going, a person is healthy. The doctor certifies he is fit to work,” said Mandha, adding that detailed health check-ups are mandatory for workers before leaving for Qatar. “After going there, people below 40 years old are dying, many from cardiac arrest. The reasons have to be investigated.”

You may also like

Leave a Comment

Pro Indian provides Latest News, India News. Read Live Breaking News from India. Stay Up-to-date with Top news in India, current headlines, photos and live coverage on entertainment, business, politics, sports, technology and more.

Edtior's Picks

Latest Articles

Copy Rights © 2022. All Right Reserved.