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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Opinion: Qatar must ensure employers pay staff their dues


Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Briton Martin Hedley arrived in Qatar in December 2014 to work for an American citizen who had set up a small consulting company in the country. He eventually severed ties with his employer in January after not being paid around six months’ salary.

Here, he explains why he found it impossible to seek help from Qatar’s courts, and why he believes the government needs to do more to enforce its existing laws and prevent others from being cheated out of their earnings.

Most people know about the ongoing issues faced by low-wage workers and their need for better housing and for better – and regular – pay in Qatar.

But it might surprise them to know that withholding of wages occurs across the spectrum in Qatar, even for professional people earning up to six-figure salaries annually.

My own experience – and that of people from other companies who have contacted me since I wrote a blog post on the subject – is that delayed payments and non-payment have ruined quite a number of careers.

Delayed salaries

In my case, the company, Excellence Factors International (EFI), had been underpaying some employees, and not paying others at all.

In December 2014, I was promised an annual salary of QR216,000 plus accommodation and a car.

I was supposed to move to Qatar in March 2015, but given the company’s cashflow situation, the CEO and I agreed that I would fly in regularly instead, and use the expenses part for that.

However, after a few months of working for the company, my salary wasn’t paid, apparently due to the late payment of a large invoice by a client – a fact I knew to be true.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Several of my colleagues were also not paid that month. We were told to wait.

When the company’s invoice was finally paid, however, less than 10 percent of the outstanding wages were settled, despite the fact that the amount received more than covered them all.

Staff were told instead that they would need to stay and work to complete more projects before full payment could be made.

I began to question the employment histories of former employees at the company, who my boss had told me had left due to “shoddy work, or only turning up on occasion.”

Doha's West Bay
Doha’s West Bay

I got in touch with them, and one by one they told me the same story, that they had left over non-payment of salary.

New law

There is a pattern to this abuse of employees, and I believe that it happens because it is allowed to happen.

About a year ago, a law was introduced that required companies in Qatar to pay all salaries by the last day of each month, through a bank account to prove it had been paid.

More than a dozen men wait to use the ATMs at City Center Mall.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The new law was a long time coming, but was eventually hailed as a substantial step in correcting the wrongs of the marketplace. Many companies have complied, but clearly many have not.

Despite the letter of the law, it seems that some employers are aware that they are unlikely to face sanctions if they break the rules.

It works like this: The pattern starts by bringing the person into Qatar and paying them for a period, then delaying or stopping payments on the basis of cash-flow issues or other semi-plausible reason, until that person is in a financial position that forces them to leave the country.

Then the employer can hire new staff, and the cycle begins again.

Legal delays

Following the non-payment of our salaries, my colleagues and I were advised to make a formal complaint to the then-Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

Upon written enquiry, ministry officials told us that while the law is now in place, no resources or funds have been made available to undertake investigations into breaches of the law.

Now, almost 12 months after the law was passed, no action has been taken in my case.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The only other option for an unpaid staff member is a civil lawsuit against his former employer.

However, this means they will enter the already log-jammed court system, and they have to remain in Qatar to do this.

The current length of time to get a hearing is apparently 18-36 months.

Therefore this is an unrealistic option for anyone who has not been receiving, and is not likely to receive, his or her income, as they would have to pay for their own accommodation and expenses throughout this time.

Call for action

The cycle of crisis, promises of change, cursory action and reoccurring crisis continues in Qatar.

Every day in the paper, you notice another example of this, sometimes minor but always indicative of the fact that the leaders believe that if enough public relations money and effort is spent on an issue, it has been solved.

Qatar wants to develop into an international economy, which is part of its stated vision, and that would be a good result for the Gulf.

In order to do this, however, officials must learn how to address problems with real solutions, and act to deliver those solutions.

Doha News asked Martin Hedley’s former employer, EFI CEO Iyad Hadba, for his response to the nonpayment issue. In a statement, he said:

“Mr. Hedley was never a salaried employee of EFI. He was a sub-contractor with a possibility to become a full-time staff (based on his performance and company circumstances). His total stay in Qatar during 2015 did not exceed 8 weeks.

His job was to complete projects with the help of other resources employed by EFI. Completing these projects required meeting quality requirements that was set by the client. His pay was based on a daily fee and travel cost when applicable, invoiced by him after a successful closure of a project. Mr. Hedleys’ performance and commitment were not up to par.

He submitted multiple invoices and received payments for most of them except for a portion related to incomplete, overdue, and flawed work. He was urged multiple times to complete his work.

A final notice was sent to him in an email on January/28/2016, where he was given the choice to fix the flawed work and get paid the balance due (upon client’s acceptance), or else, it will be assigned to other resources at his expense. Because of his refusal, the company was left with one choice, which is to assign new resources to these projects. It is important to understand that the effort required by the new resources is not incremental (new resources almost had to start from scratch to understand and fix all issues).

His incompetency and lack of commitment created a big challenge for the company’s customer relationship and severely impacted cash flow. We find it outrageous that he is making up stories and “BLAME QATAR For Human Rights” band wagon trying to bully Qatari companies in hope of getting something he does not deserve.”

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