The Philippines embassy in Qatar has called upon a former restaurant owner to take responsibility for an employee who has been left homeless for the past eight months and is trying to leave the country.
The young Filipino man, who asked not to be named, is currently living in the Roti King at the Al Jazeera Petrol Station. The restaurant, which is undergoing renovations, has been his home since last September.
He told Doha News that he simply wants to return to his home country, preferably with the back pay that he says he’s owed.
“One day, my sponsor just said that he couldn’t provide me with any more accommodation or transport, so we had to live in a stockroom on the first floor of the restaurant. He told us that if Baladiya came, we had to lock the door, but that we could stay there for now,” he said.
He added that he is not in possession of his passport and that his Qatar ID has expired. This leaves him vulnerable to being arrested if he’s stopped by the police and may create problems when he does eventually try to leave the country.
The Philippines embassy has “advised” the man’s sponsor to pay his employee his unpaid March salary, his end-of-service gratuity and “process his exit formalities.”
A spokesperson for the embassy told Doha News that it has not received any response to its letter, which was dated April 4. The spokesperson said he was waiting to discuss the situation with the man further before deciding on any additional action.
The man said he came to Qatar in September 2012 under a contract seen by Doha News, to work for a cleaning and hospitality company. However, when he arrived in the country, the man said he was told that the company was not operating and that he’d work as a server at Roti King instead, despite holding a degree in restaurant management.
“I studied for four years, and to see where I’m working now. It’s sad. I didn’t work so hard to do this,” he said.
Along with being assigned a different job, the man said the QR1,500 monthly salary he was promised was reduced to QR1,000.
Contract substitution, where expats are promised a different salary and job in their home country than what awaits them in Qatar, is one of the most frequently documented issues by human rights advocates who study migrant rights.
This weekend, The Peninsula reported on the case of an expat who came to Qatar on a domestic cook’s visa, only to be forced to work on a livestock farm near the Saudi border.
Some expats have said they would not have come to Qatar if they knew how little money they’d actually be making, especially since many are forced to accumulate debts in their home country to pay illegal recruitment fees.
How to effectively police the issue from Qatar, however, is less than clear since many of the transgressions happen outside the country’s borders. Some labor-sending countries, such as Bangladesh, have responded by signing agreements with Qatar that force companies in this country to only hire nationals who are registered in a government database in their home country.
No way home
Despite the lower pay, the man said he continued to work at the restaurant to help support his family in the Philippines, where his father was undergoing dialysis treatment.
When his father passed away in April 2014, the man said he asked to return home and submitted a request for emergency leave. That was denied on the grounds that the restaurant was short-staffed, but the man said he was promised that he’d be allowed to take time off in January 2015.
He said he hasn’t left Qatar since arriving in 2012, despite being promised a free roundtrip ticket to Manila in his contract, which has since expired and not been renewed.
Even more serious problems emerged last fall when his sponsor told the man to vacate his accommodations near the Safari Hypermarket and relocate to the restaurant ahead of its sale to a new owner and closure for renovations.
When Doha News visited Roti King on Thursday, the man’s pillows, mattress, clothes and cooking utensils were visible around the restaurant.
Cutlery and foodstuff were stored in a small dirt-laden room inside the bathroom, while an open stove was placed in the middle of what will be the restaurant’s seating area. Upstairs, the man’s thin mattress and pillow lay on a new marble floor.
He said that he’s occasionally able to shower and do laundry at a friend’s home and that he spends his days helping with the restaurant’s renovations, assisting and cleaning up after the construction contractors.
He said two of his coworkers found themselves in similar circumstances, but that one managed to transfer his sponsorship to the restaurant’s new owner.
However, the young Filipino man said he’s not interested in signing a new contract or remaining in Qatar after learning how the country’s sponsorship laws leave employees such as him at the mercy of their employer.
“All I want to do now is go back home,” he said.