Updated on Sept. 29 with comment from North Korean workers
A local construction firm has terminated contracts with its remaining 108 North Korean employees after they were caught working on another company’s building site at night, according to a media report.
Voice of America (VOA) cited an unnamed Doha-based diplomatic source as saying Qatar’s Construction Development Co. (CDC) suspected the workers’ North Korean supervisors were forcing the migrants to work at the second project after their regular day shift and may have been confiscating their wages.
The move means CDC has now fired its entire North Korean workforce after the same company reportedly sacked some 90 North Korean employees in May over “continuous serious violations” of labor rules that resulted in the death of one worker.
Minutes of a meeting earlier this year between officials from CDC and the Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, a copy of which was obtained by VOA, said the company had found that Korean supervisors who were responsible for the well-being of their workers “have been continuously forcing them to work more than 12 hours a day.”
Additionally, the supervisors were accused of providing the workers with substandard food and regularly ignored health and safety procedures.
Under Qatar’s labor law, employees are typically not allowed to work more than 48 hours a week, eight hours a day or a maximum of 10 hours a day with paid overtime. Other provisions mandate that workers receive at least one rest day of 24 hours each week.
At the time, CDC said in the memo that it would continue to employ its remaining 100-odd North Korean workers provided they followed eight rules – one of which was not to work on any non-CDC job sites.
A number of North Koreans in Qatar have disputed the allegations. An Son Sok, who said he was a stone mason and supervisor with CDC, told Doha News that none of the events in the memo took place and that the workers were not fired but went back to North Korea for a month’s leave.
He said 50 workers were later transferred to other companies in Qatar, and 47 remained working for CDC. The construction firm did not respond to repeated requests for a comment.
North Koreans in Qatar
It’s not known what construction project CDC’s North Korean employees were working on. CDC has previously been involved in several high-profile local projects including the Emiri Terminal at Hamad International Airport, the St. Regis Hotel Doha, Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel and Commercial Bank Plaza in West Bay, according to its website.
A 2014 Guardian report estimated that there were approximately 3,000 North Koreans migrants working in Qatar and as many as 62,000 elsewhere in the Middle East, Russia, China and Mongolia.
Citing a former North Korean army officer, the report said that the Pyongyang government typically takes 70 percent of the wages that workers earn abroad. After food and accommodation fees are deducted, North Korean migrant workers are often only left with 10 percent of their salary.