A contractor responsible for ensuring infrastructure is in place for a new city that is set to host football matches at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has left scores of migrant workers stranded thousands of miles from home and “penniless”, according to Amnesty International.
The charity claim Mercury MENA, an engineering and plumbing firm, has exploited construction workers after conducting a wide-ranging investigation into claims of negligence and unpaid work.
The damning report states how almost 80 workers from Nepal, India and the Philippines are affected and owed an average of $2,000 (£1,520) after the vast majority helped build projects like Qatar's Lusail Stadium which is projected to stage the opening game and final of the tournament with the eyes of the world watching.
Despite government reforms tasked with resolving the abuse of foreign workers said to be in place, the company has been accused of using the “kafala structure” - a form of sponsorship system which ties employees to a single employer and is notorious in the exploitation of cheap labour.
Amnesty has said it examined the cases of 78 former employees of Mercury MENA, interviewing 44 and analysing documentation of another 34. Of them, 58 came from Nepal, 15 from India and five from the Philippines.
One example identified by the human rights group is Ernesto, from the Philippines, who worked as a piping foreman for Mercury MENA in Lusail City, a £34bn project. When he left Qatar after two years he was owed four months’ wages and was in greater debt than when he arrived.
Speaking to Amnesty, he said: “I’m imagining things during [the World Cup]…People from all over the world cheering, laughing, touring some of the beautiful stadiums, recreational sites and hotels here … Will they ever think ‘what are the stories behind those structures?’”
Steve Cockburn, director of Global Issues at Amnesty International, said, the latest case is “not an isolated case” and the group will continue to pressure the Qatar authorities to ensure workers’ rights are fully protected both in law and practice.
“Many Mercury MENA employees had made huge sacrifices and taken out ruinous loans to take jobs in Qatar. They ended up working unpaid for months on end and were let down by a system which failed to protect them,” he added. “By ensuring they get the wages which they are owed, Qatar can help these migrant workers to rebuild their lives and show that it is serious about improving workers’ rights.”
Responding to the claims, a spokesman for the Qatari government said Mercury MENA were not directly involved in the building of the stadium but in the building of the city. The country's labour ministry said such abuse of workers is "not tolerated" in the country and that there are unspecified "legal proceedings" against Mercury MENA.