Protesters blocking a highway posted photographs on social media

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Strikes in Qatar: Foreign workers break law to protest over withheld wages

22 August 2019 | By GCR Staff | 5 Comments

Foreign construction workers in Qatar have received three months’ worth of overdue wages after a rare strike earlier this month.

On 4 August workers in the Al Shahaniya area downed tools and protested after two companies neglected to pay wages in May, June and July, the Qatari government said in a statement.

Abusive labour practices that lead workers to take such a risk will continue until the Qatari government makes good on its promise to repeal the kafala system– Lama Fakih, Human Rights Watch

Images posted by protesters on social media show hundreds of men blocking a highway, believed to be the Dukhan highway, which runs through Al Shahaniya.

A second strike elsewhere in Qatar has been reported by campaign group Human Rights Watch.

Strikes are illegal in Qatar, but the government investigated the complaints of the Al Shahaniya strikers and arrested “authorised signatories” of the two companies, it said on 17 August. 

It then paid the outstanding salaries of the workers through the Wage Protection System, and said they had the right to change employers because theirs had broken Qatar’s labour laws.

Under Qatar’s hated kafala sponsorship system, workers must get permission from their employer if they want to work for another company, leading to many reported instances of abuse

The government said its investigation “confirmed that salaries had been delayed following a period of negative cash flow at both companies, caused by non-payments elsewhere in the supply chain”.

Human Rights Watch received a report of a second strike on 5 August involving up to 1,000 employees of a Qatari maintenance company. 

A foreign employee of the company told the organisation that there had been threats from management to deport workers if they refused to sign new contracts that cut their wages.

“The workers in Qatar are going on strike in a country that bans them from striking or joining unions, and against the backdrop of a labour system that leaves them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Abusive labour practices that lead workers to take such a risk will continue until the Qatari government makes good on its promise to repeal the kafala system.”

Image: Protesters blocking a highway in Qatar on 4 August posted photographs on social media, which were curated and shared by journalist and filmmaker Benjamin Best

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