Updated on Sept. 29 with comment from North Korean workers
Some 90 North Korean expats have been sacked and sent home by a Qatar-based construction company over “continuous serious violations” of labor rules that resulted in the recent death of one of the employees, an American news site has reported.
According to a memo obtained by Voice of America (VOA) Korean Service, officials from Qatar’s Construction Development Company (CDC) met earlier this week with representatives from an Embassy of the Democratic Peoples Republic of North Korea (DPRK) and informed them of the dismissals.
In the minutes of a meeting between the two sides, which was held on May 3, CDC told embassy officials that 90 of their 192 North Korean workers were being sent home after repeatedly breaking provisions of Qatar’s Labor Law (No. 14 of 2004).
The company apparently 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,” provided them with sub-standard food and regularly ignored health and safety procedures.
Articles 73 and 74 of Qatar’s Labor Law state that employees are not ordinarily allowed to work more than 48 hours a week, eight hours a day or a maximum of 10 hours a day with paid overtime. Article 75 adds that they must be given at least one rest day of 24 hours each week.
The memo added that the actions led to the death of a worker, although it does not give any details about the circumstances, and has “resulted in causing the company great inconvenience with the local authorities.”
It is not clear why the construction workers are being sent home, in addition to the supervisors.
However, in what was described as a show of “gratitude” toward the workers, the firm said it would not fire all of the North Korean employees. And those sent home will receive No Objection Certificates (NOCs) and would be able to return to Qatar to work for another company, the memo added.
The remaining 102 staff will be allowed to stay, but CDC warns that if they break any stipulated rules, their employment will be terminated and they will be sent home immediately.
According to the letter obtained by VOA, these rules include:
- Misbehavior on-site;
- Non-compliance with CDC health and safety procedure;
- Absconding and working at other sites other than CDC;
- Consuming and manufacturing banned substances;
- Any kind of violation of local laws;
- Thefts at the site/camp; and
- Inappropriate behavior.
The managers of the Korean workers had to submit the names and original identity cards of the 90 workers to CDC by May 4, otherwise they would lose the right to get NOCs, the letter added.
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.
CDC did not respond to requests for comment.
The construction company has worked on a number of landmark projects in Qatar 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.
But it is not clear which project the sacked workers had been contracted to develop.
There are believed to be nearly 3,000 North Koreans working in Qatar, predominantly on construction sites.
Last year, international media reports surfaced about the conditions some North Koreans working in Qatar must endure.
In November, The Guardian quoted an unnamed manager of a tower project that had employed 50 North Koreans.
“They work constantly. I have even built a room for them so they can rest without having to go back to their labor camp,” the newspaper reports.
According to the newspaper, the workers received only around 10 percent of their salary during the three years they were in Qatar, with the rest reportedly going to North Korean-run authorities.
VOA also reported in December last year of poor housing conditions faced by the North Korean workers in Qatar.
And there were also several reported incidents in which North Koreans were arrested and investigated in Qatar over claims that they manufactured and distributed alcohol and drugs illegally, Seoul-based Daily NK reports.