For the second time in two months, bus drivers who shuttle students between Education City and the Qatar National Convention Center have fallen into a pay dispute with their employer.
Upset over late payment of their September salaries, dozens of drivers on Sunday threatened to go on strike, according to several employees who spoke to Doha News.
The action was averted after supervisors assured them they would be paid, but three drivers have been fired after failing to show up for work in protest, said a supervisor at Gulf House of Trading & Contracting Co., which supplies drivers to Qatar Foundation, among other companies.
The manager added that salaries were late because of Eid holidays and a backlog in payment processing at its bank when businesses reopened this week.
Last month, Northwestern University in Qatar journalism students reported that workers had gone on strike for an hour because they claimed they had not been paid. They returned to work later that day after being promised their wages.
The drivers’ shuttle service provides a critical transportation link for students between the convention center and Education City, after ongoing construction projects prompted officials to ban students from parking on campus in August.
Speaking to Doha News, Gulf House supervisor John Kennedy said that company managers visited the workers on Sunday evening and told them that they would be paid the following day.
The workers said they were paid Monday, but three failed to show up for work that day and were fired, according to Kennedy. Several drivers also told Doha News that they were threatened with imprisonment if they went on strike, a claim Gulf House officials deny.
It is unclear who ordered the termination of the drivers. Two other Gulf House managers reached by Doha News were adamant that their company did not fire anyone, adding that the firm does not punish workers for striking.
“If they are waiting for their salary and they don’t show up for work, we probably (wouldn’t) take action,” said one operations manager.
According to Gulf House’s human resources and administration manager, QF officials ordered the drivers removed and that Gulf House was seeking details from its client.
A QF spokesman has declined to comment on the issue.
The drivers who spoke to Doha News said they are paid QR2,500 a month and are not given food, accommodation or transportation. Gulf House officials declined to discuss its workers’ compensation packages, but said the company both directly employs drivers and subcontracts them from other businesses.
Other drivers promised raises
The ongoing tension between Education City drivers and their employer is not the only labor dispute involving bus operators in Doha.
Drivers for three private schools went on strike in mid-September to demand better pay and treatment. Parents said at the time that they were not given adequate notice of the job action and were left scrambling to find alternative transportation options.
The head of transport at one of the affected institutions, Doha Modern Indian School, told Doha News on Wednesday that all the drivers have since returned to work.
Mohammed Siddique said the drivers were promised a pay increase, but did not know the amount or when it would come into effect.
The drivers, who also provide services to Cambridge School of Doha and the Cambridge International School for Girls, are contracted under Al Watan International Trading & Contracting Co., a subsidiary of Al Taleb Group.
The company reportedly filed a police report against the striking workers in September. Siddique said a court case is proceeding against 10 to 15 drivers, but that they are continuing to work in the meantime.
The drivers’ strikes are rare protests in a country that bans expats from forming trade unions and a sign, according to one academic, that workers are becoming more confident in pushing for higher pay and better working conditions.