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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Strapped for cash, Lee Trading workers abandoning wage claims

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justice

Several construction workers in Qatar whose company has closed have been forced to abandon their claims for unpaid wages and return home after running out of money, according to one of their colleagues.

Their plight is one that human rights observers are saying illustrates the inability of Qatar’s justice system to force companies to pay their employees in a timely fashion.

The workers were employed by Lee Trading and Contracting – a firm that outfitted the interiors of many high-end local developments including the Torch Hotel, Qatar Sports Club and the Al Bidda office tower in Dafna.

The circumstances of the 80-some men, most of whom hail from Bangladesh, China, Nepal, Nigeria and the Philippines, were raised by Amnesty International late last year.

At the time, Lee Trading had not paid these employees their monthly wages in nearly a year, and owed them a total of QR1.5 million (US$411,000).

Many were unable to file a complaint with Qatar’s Labor Court because they could not afford the QR600 ($125) fee to pay for an expert report required by authorities. Rights groups have called the fee a barrier to accessing the justice system and said it should be abolished.

But even those who were able to afford the report and received favorable rulings are still waiting to be paid. Because the company has closed its doors and the workers’ sponsor is nowhere to be found, enforcing the court judgements is proving challenging.

One former member of the company’s office staff, who spoke to Doha News on the condition of anonymity, estimated that of the 300 to 400 former employees are owed money, 81 have open Labor Court cases.

Speaking to Amnesty in November, LTC employee Raskumar Salmar said he has not been given a food allowance in two months, and that he had not received his salary in 11 months.
Speaking to Amnesty in November, LTC employee Raskumar Salmar said he has not been given a food allowance in two months, and that he had not received his salary in 11 months.

Even though the Ministry of Interior has promised the workers no-objection certificates that would allow them to seek out other jobs in the country, the former employee said several claimants – who were also threatened with eviction – could not afford to stay in Qatar and have left the country.

He added that some former colleagues have suggested that the authorities seize and auction off the company’s assets to pay the workers. The property includes more than two dozen vehicles as well as computers, monitors, printers and furniture from a QR4 million ($1.1 million) business center on Grand Hamad (Bank) Street.

But the courts are still giving LTC more time to act on its rulings, according to the former employee.

“I’m trying to be optimistic and remain positive. But with so many disruptions and issues, it is disheartening. “It’s pushed (back) and pushed (back). It is a delay every time we go back to the court.”

Consequences of delay

While many workers employed by other companies have been able to recoup unpaid wages through Qatar’s Labor Court, the LTC case highlights some of the system’s shortcomings, said Amnesty researcher James Lynch.

In a report released last fall, Amnesty said the duration of Labor Court proceedings appear to be one factor deterring workers from pursuing their cases to conclusion.

“The longer a case goes on, more likely the person is to run out of money and choose to leave and go home,” Lynch told Doha News.

He said unpaid workers have told Amnesty their employers mocked their employees and encouraged them to file a Labor Court case against them, implying that they are not afraid of the process.

He added that many firms don’t show up to their hearings, which adds further delays.

Some sponsors have also been known to pressure unpaid workers into leaving the country by refusing to renew their residence permits, making them undocumented migrants and cutting them off from many facets of day-to-day life in Qatar that require a valid ID card.

A crowd of LTC employees gather around Amnesty International representatives during a November 2013 visit. Each person was fighting for a chance to have their story heard.
A crowd of LTC employees gather around Amnesty International representatives during a November 2013 visit. Each person was fighting for a chance to have their story heard.

In other court cases – such as what is starting to happen with some LTC employees – workers may be successful with their initial claim, but still can’t access their unpaid wages because the company doesn’t have the money.

“(Unpaid workers) essentially have to file two cases – first to win their case, then to file for enforcement action,” Lynch said.

These kinds of delays have also been a problem in other Doha courts. For example, a judge ruled in June 2013 that five people convicted of involuntary manslaughter after the Villaggio mall fire must pay blood money to the relatives relatives of the 19 people killed.

But many family members have since filed additional court motions to compel the defendants to pay that money, without success.

To tackle the LTC problem and the broader issue of non-payments, Human Rights Watch researcher Nick McGeehan told Doha News that several solutions could be introduced.

Government authorities could monitor the financial health of companies that sponsor foreign workers and only allow them to hire additional expats if they can prove they have sufficient funds to pay their wages and end-of-service benefits, he said.

Additionally, the government could pay workers who have received favorable Labor Court rulings itself and then use the state’s resources to prosecute company officials and recoup the funds.

Ruling expected

As for the former LTC employees, the former office worker who spoke to Doha News said he has another court hearing in mid-April. He said he expects to receive a favorable settlement ruling, after which the defunct company would be granted 30 days to pay.

In the meantime, he said he’s temporarily gone without power in his apartment for not paying the bills and his landlord – who also hasn’t been paid by LTC – wants him out of his apartment, but gave him a reprieve after he explained his situation.

“It’s very embarrassing. I’ve never, in all my years of living overseas, been in a situation like this,” the former employee said.

He suggested Qatar’s legal system has not caught up to the country’s economic realities, and that reforms are needed.

“I love this country. I really do,” he said. “Qatar is just a little bit young – hopefully it will grow up in a few years.

Thoughts?

42 COMMENTS

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Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago

A few questions, anyone know the answers?

How hard can it be to find the sponsor?
Is there any provision for the government to pay wages and add it to the company’s tax burden?
If they workers leave the country, can they continue their case from overseas?
Is there any requirement that companies put a certain percentage of a worker’s salary in an escrow account before they have the privilege of hiring?

Saffa
Saffa
7 years ago

On question 1, Lack of Will… pretty much covers answers to most of your questions too….

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago
Reply to  Saffa

But why do the labourers pay anything? Where do you pay for a government prosecution? You file the case, the prosecutor does his or her thing and gets back to you with updates. Why is there any need for the labourers to retain a lawyer? Can someone explain the system to me?

Laibach
Laibach
7 years ago

Q3 – In theory, yes; in practice, you will be throwing good money after bad. In order to attend hearings you have to spend money on airfares, visas, hotels, etc. even if the defendant repeatedly doesn’t show up. If you hire a local legal counsel to represent you, he’ll demand a retainer fee that is likely to exceed the amount you are hoping to recover, paid in advance, no refunds. Even if you are lucky to get a court decision in your favour, how do you enforce it? There are no collection agencies that you can retain to go and harass the defendant, so it is hopeless.

PlanetCitizen
PlanetCitizen
7 years ago

These labourers get paid an average amount of 1000QAR a month, how can one expect to stay in the country for months without pay and get through the delayed legal system.

desertCard
desertCard
7 years ago
Reply to  PlanetCitizen

Sorry but it’s closer to 500

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago

How hard can it be to find the sponsor?

depends on what your line of work is, how connected you are and if you can speak english/arabic

Is there any provision for the government to pay wages and add it to the company’s tax burden?

none that i know of and if the company is 51% qatari owned it doesn’t pay tax anyway

If they workers leave the country, can they continue their case from overseas?

if they have enough money its possible

Is there any requirement that companies put a certain percentage of a worker’s salary in an escrow account before they have the privilege of hiring?

dont think so

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago

I was thinking for the authorities – given how the population is monitored there, you’d think that 2 minutes on a keyboard would locate someone. You said above it is a foreign owned company, there must be tax obligations of some sort.

PlanetCitizen
PlanetCitizen
7 years ago

LTC can’t be blamed entirely for the late payments. In Qatar it is standard practice by the Clients to delay payments, Contractors are supposedly positioned as scape goats for all the problems, we need to get all the parties involved specifically the Client.
Typically in such cases in the Gulf, the Clients are pushed to release payment to pay the workers and reintroduce them back to the market. Nowhere are the clients name indicated here. The labour system has no power to over-ride the existing ban on workers.

Deepak Babu
Deepak Babu
7 years ago
Reply to  PlanetCitizen

If clients delay payment, the company delays payment of their workers? I don’t see how this is an acceptable reason.

PlanetCitizen
PlanetCitizen
7 years ago
Reply to  Deepak Babu

Most big budget project operating expenses are loaned by banks. Typically most of the delays takes place due to incomplete design which the contractors are not responsible for, although in most cases the contractors scope of work limited to BUILT scope only, additional variation cost could increase the construction expenses by about 50%, the client only compensate the contractors partially, it becomes a real burden for the contractors to maintain a huge work force for the additional works.

The Government on the other hand should provide relief by over-riding their bans & allow them to switch employers, this should give them the opportunity, time & money to stay in the country and sort out their labor disputes in the mean time.

But tell me this, would it be fair to pay every single employee in the client side, every higher management employee in the contractor’s side, while put the laborer’s salary as collateral for all the project delays & inefficiency, I call this MODERN DAY SLAVERY. Let us put every employee on an equal footing, pay everyone or no one gets paid.

KK
KK
7 years ago

Do ‘they’ want to find the sponsor ?

PlanetCitizen
PlanetCitizen
7 years ago

This is truly a disaster, the Government need to act upon good faith & need to solve the problem at its source. It is grave injustice to see these labourers break their back to complete ambitious project, while they get the boot at the end of it all.

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago

Why don’t they treat sponsors the same as expats accused of crimes. Put them in prison until the case is heard and decided.

I’m sure in that way the abused will get quick justice

Pete
Pete
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

Even a travel ban.

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
7 years ago

How disgraceful for Qatar 2022 to be harping on about how they will not tolerate labor abuses.

And then this has happened to workers who fitted out their tower.

What an absolute joke.

Net-guy
Net-guy
7 years ago

This has proven the little usefullness of the Qatari Legal System, need to change it to the Lame Qatari System, use it only if love to endure, no answers, no progress, and no decision, oh, but if a decision is met, no authority to act….
Laws only apply to residents.
The legal system is proof.
All citizens are above the laws here, and all residents are below the law.
.
This issue is much biggier than the Qatari’s realize, they have proven they do not know what they are doing…They just put the screws to the very people that have built this place.
They have no “integrity” and the sad part is they just don’t care.

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago
Reply to  Net-guy

The fact that there are Qataris in jail proves your wrong on the “Laws only apply to residents”. Being racist and ignorant toward Qataris isn’t going to help these workers.

Net-guy
Net-guy
7 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

Call me a racist if it makes you feel better. Lack of any real action by Qatar is really the only thing I have against this place.. I know you will say then I should leave, but the fact is the problem will still exist. Qatar is the only nation that can correct this problem.

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

Although I don’t agree with netguy’s comments it would be interesting to look at the last 10 years and see the length of sentences handed down for the same crime by nationality. I would suspect, although without seeing the data I cannot be sure, that Qataris and Westerners get treated more lienantly than those from South Asia.

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

Sadly, I do think you’re right. I agree, Qatar seriously needs to work on creating a more equal and more efficient justice system, but dismissing Qataris as people who have “no integrity” is just unfair. I don’t know what netguy’s experience is like living in Qatar, but as a Qatari myself I think I’m in a better place to speak about what my people feel and what they don’t feel, and I can tell you, with sincerity, that I know plenty of Qataris who believe the treatment of workers is unfair, and that the workers’ conditions should be ameliorated.

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  Net-guy

Who says Qataris don’t care? I’m curious, have you ever actually spoken to a Qatari before? Racism will not solve this problem, and your comments are not contributing anything to this discussion whatsoever. Qataris are not above the law, and the fact that you actually got up-votes is sickening… It’s amazing how much ignorance continues to exist in the twenty-first century….

Net-guy
Net-guy
7 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

The fact that this is not the first case of these types of events. Only Qataris can correct this type of problem. Pressure from the outside world may cause a change that should have already happened. Maybe you are right, some Qataris probably do care, just not enough to push for a change.

Desert Witch
Desert Witch
7 years ago

Same story every time and nothing changes for the better

hohum
hohum
7 years ago

I was found innocent of raping a student back in 2010-11. During this trial the father had already began the litigation process before it had finished.

I now find it confusing that after more than 2 years of pursuing my accuser through the civil courts for defamation and damages that the court dismisses my case. I’m still waiting to hear the reason which I have been told will be on Monday.

I would love to know who they believe is responsible for my false imprisonment, defamation, legal fees and the trauma of going through a rape case in Qatar.

Still waiting for justice.

Observant One
Observant One
7 years ago

Speaking to a driver on the way to the airport today. Told me he used to be a home driver then changed to his current company. His old sponsor charged him 6000 riyal to sign NOC which was 4 months wages….shameful

Lee Gleason
Lee Gleason
7 years ago

Isn’t that the way of things….

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago
Reply to  Lee Gleason

And sadly, in one form or another, it seems to happen elsewhere too.

http://www.migrantworkerhealth.ca/BackgroundWorkers.html

Kingpin
Kingpin
7 years ago

Well done Qatar, you win again. You must be very proud.

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago
Reply to  Kingpin

Nothing to be proud of here. It’s shameful beyond words how the “justice” system has failed these people!

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago
Reply to  Kingpin

not a qatari company so its an expat win actually

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago

Is it – reference on that? Regardless, it is a Qatari system, designed, run, and maintained by Qataris. It is a loss for all, and a win for none.

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago

Where is the reference that it’s a Qatari company? I had no idea that “Lee” was now a Qatari or even Arabic name. Though “lee” does mean “mine” in Arabic.

You are correct though, that it’s Qatari system, and Qataris should be the ones to fix it, just like other people should fix theirs 😉

http://www.migrantworkerhealth.ca/BackgroundWorkers.html

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

What does a name have to do with origin of the owner? New Happy Baby, gives you no hint of the national origin of the owner, nor does Pizza Hut, nor Sunshine Food – a weak argument.

There is no reference to company ownership, that is why I wanted a reference to support the assertion that is is foreign owned. In all likelihood it is 51% Qatari owned – which makes it a Qatari company- hence my surprise. Agreed, all countries need work on their labour front, though as this space is dedicated to Qatar it is to be expected that the discussion will be on Qatar.

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said “You should pay the laborer his wages before his sweat dries.” [Sunan Ibn Mâjah (2443)] This is all the court needs to know and do. Simply put, the company has assets, the owners are not to be found, all assets must be sold to pay for the workers.

Quite frankly, the government should immediately pay these people and compensate them for the delay. Then, let the government take it’s sweet time collecting from these “business thugs” who are allowed to do these horrible things to the poorest of the poor!

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

I guess the only problem is sometimes the govt and the business people are the same thing….

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago

“(Unpaid workers) essentially have to file two cases – first to win their case, then to file for enforcement action,” Lynch said. Not only that, but they’ll most probably have to deal with more delay in case of an appeal too.

wee_johnnie
wee_johnnie
7 years ago

Maybe instead of buying lumps of metal and sticking them into the desert, they could have used that money to pay for these labourers and helped those living in poor conditions. The PR value would be enormous.

AFG
AFG
7 years ago

It is sad that we can do all the talking and arguing here like a keyboard warrior, but no real action is taken. It’s like giving a “like” to a Facebook pictures to “help” end African kids starvation.

Saffa
Saffa
7 years ago
Reply to  AFG

Slacktivism at its best isn’t it. As long as I don’t have to leave my comfort zone it’s good to be an activist 😉

Said the pot to the kettle 😉

Corbomite
Corbomite
7 years ago
Reply to  AFG

Coz when you do real action, you get sacked, lose your job, go to jail, get lashes, and for expats, get deported.

Murat Altinay
Murat Altinay
7 years ago

Are the workers looking new company ? How we can reach them ?

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