600 Indian construction workers in Qatar stranded with no pay
An Indian official said nearly 300 of the workers have been provided work in other companies while some have been brought back. But those affected say there has been no word on their compensation after having worked for eight to 10 years.Updated: Jul 28, 2018 18:39 IST
Over 600 Indian construction workers in Qatar have for six months faced denial of salaries, job losses, the expiry of visas and substandard living conditions in labour camps, according to workers and official communications.
Qatar has been drawing flak over the plight of migrant workers involved in construction work for the infrastructure required for the 2022 football World Cup.
An Indian official said nearly 300 of the workers have been provided work in other companies while some have been brought back. But those affected say there has been no word on their compensation after having worked for eight to 10 years.
The workers have fallen on hard times since a financial crisis hit leading Qatari firm HKH General Contracting Company, which once employed 1,200 workers.
“We are now left to the mercy of people who help us on a charitable basis for food. We do not even have electricity in the daytime, but just about manage to get generators running in the night,’’said S Kumar, who is from Kerala and worked for the firm for eight years. He said he had not been paid for last six months.
A plumber, who worked for the company for nine years, said they have no option but to wait. “I cannot even go to a hospital for the fear of getting caught as my visa has been expired,” he said on condition of anonymity.
“I had to borrow money to arrange for my flight back home. I feel hopeless. I pawned my property to come here two years ago. This is what life has given me here,’’ said another worker.
The Indian embassy in Qatar took up the matter with the company without any response after 25 workers wrote to the mission on April 10 complaining that they had not been paid for months.
Subsequently, the embassy approached Qatar’s administrative development, labour and social affairs ministry. “The ministry has assured us all humanitarian assistance,’’ said an Indian official.
The embassy again wrote to the company on May 5 reminding it of the non-payment of salaries.
Kerala’s principal secretary took up the matter in a letter to the embassy on May 29.
Jarnail Singh, a worker, said writing letters was not alone going to help. “What we want are our dues. Governments – state or Centre – say they are working on the issue. For us, its struggle of last six months and uncertainty about our future.”
HKH General Contracting Company did not respond to HT’s queries. There was no response from the Qatari embassy in New Delhi until Sunday evening.
There was no response from the external affairs ministry. But a government official familiar with the issue said the mission and the Indian community in Qatar were arranging essential supplies for the workers. “We continue to work to resolve the status of others.”
Rema George, a social activist who takes up such cases, said they have been pursuing the case. “The government should take immediate steps to address the issue immediately. These are poor people who have no other means to survive. I have visited these camps where they stay and it is a sad sight.”
In a July 12 letter to George, the Indian embassy said over 200 workers “have had their visa transferred to other companies and nearly 45 half left for India (out of which 14 airfares were given by the mission).”
The Indian mission is working with Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines to press for relief for the workers. An official said Qatar recently announced Support Fund to clear dues of workers of distressed companies. But it is yet to become operational.