By Sahar ElKabbash
With so many businesses being hit by the economic downturn that’s come with the Covid-19 pandemic, lots of people have suddenly found themselves vulnerable to losing their jobs or to not being paid their wages.
It’s a nightmare especially for those who have no one to turn to or aren’t aware of their rights under Qatari law. Some either suffer in silence or, like in the case of ‘Bernard’ take to social media in the hope that their call for help will be heard.
But there is another way, since publishing Bernard’s story, we came across another person who worked for Al-Jazira Security, and much like Bernard, spoke to us of how the company was not fulfilling its obligations to its staff.
This is the story of ‘Amin’ who also asked for us not to reveal his real name. Amin quit working for Al-Jazira Security Services at the end of March after he came to the realisation that the struggles associated with his job weren’t worth him being away from his home country. On regular days, he was overworked and poorly paid, and since the start of the pandemic— like Bernard and others— Amin was not receiving his salary or provided with any assistance whatsoever to cover living expenses. He eventually saw no point in carrying on with the company and decided to quit his job; it was at a time when the uncertainty resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak.
He decided now was the time to go back home and so requested from his bosses at Al-Jazira that they pay him his financial dues but to no avail.
“I called the company asking for my unpaid salary, but I kept waiting, and they kept stalling.”
After reaching a dead-end with company management, Amin reached out to the Ministry of Labour’s workers’ complaints service, in the hope that the government would help. To his surprise, he tells us, the authorities responded to him the same day, he informed them of where he worked and told them that the company was refusing to pay him salary owed to him. The following morning they sent a police car to Al-Jazira Security Services and instructed the company management to pay Amin what he was owed.
“I’m on good terms with the company now. They’ve sent me my delayed payments, and I’m just waiting for the airports to open so I can go back home.”
Amin’s story is important because it shows that if used, the system can work. According to the government, authorities have resolved 88% of complaints lodged against employees since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
But there are reasons why some people are hesitant to call the government helpline says Vani Saraswathi, Associate Editor and Director of Projects at Migrant Rights
Some workers are afraid their employers might turn against them and not pay them the rest of their salaries or evict them from their accommodation. Secondly, there is a trust deficit. Both in the government here and their governments and embassies.
Repatriating workers is seen as a resolution of the case, however, workers who have made huge investments to migrate for work, don’t want to go back empty handed. They would rather stay back and work and meet their goals.
Doha News reached out to the Government Communications Office for comment but have not received a reply. We did however manage to speak to an official source who didn’t want to be named; they told us that the ministry of Labour had put in place mechanisms to make sure that workers who complained would not be harmed.
Ms. Saraswathi says that the onus is on authorities to prove that to the public.
The government needs to prove to workers that the service works and that the workers’ complaints are heard. They need to show evidence as workers rely on their peers’ experiences. If they hear of more and more cases of success, they will be motivated to file complaints. They should also name and shame bad employers and recruitment agencies.
Amin’s case is a demonstration that the complaints service can work, and based on his story and that of Bernard’s it would seem that Al-Jazira Security Services have responded to the pressure they’ve come under. Undoubtably there are many workers out there suffering at the hands of greedy bosses, but in the story of Amin and the good cop, there is hope.
Workers who have complaints should contact the Ministry of Labour either by phone on 16008 or via sms on 92727 sending a message with the number 5 followed by their visa or QID number. The service is available in different languages.
Have you or someone you know tried using this service? What was your experience. Let us know, firstname.lastname@example.org