UK construction giants Balfour Beatty and Interserve have been criticised by a prominent CIOB ambassador to the Middle East for alleged mistreatment of workers in Qatar.
Stephen Lines FCIOB has said firms have a responsibility to ensure the welfare of migrant labourers in their Qatar supply chains
"I can’t go along with what Balfour Beatty and Interserve have done, it is their responsibility as a British-based employer to ensure their workers are treated properly," said Lines, a past president of the CIOB in the Middle East and a special CIOB ambassador to the region.
"There’s no reason why people have to be housed in filth, not paid properly and just mainly mistreated," Lines said in an interview with GCR’s sister publication, Construction Manager.
His comments follow a new investigation by newspaper The Guardian this week, which accuses the two firms of abusing the employment rights of migrant workers labouring for their local joint venture companies.
The Guardian reported that labourers on large-scale construction sites operated by BK Gulf, co-owned by Balfour Beatty, and Gulf Contracting Company, co-owned by Interserve, allege they have been exploited and mistreated by the labour hire companies used by the contractors to supply sites in Doha with cheap manual workers.
There’s no reason why people have to be housed in filth, not paid properly and just mainly mistreated– Stephen Lines, past president of the CIOB
The alleged abuses include erratic or reduced payment of wages, passport confiscation, workers entering employment with high levels of debt bondage, and pay levels below those agreed when workers were recruited in their home countries.
Workers interviewed by The Guardian spoke of a culture of fear and intimidation, with threats of arrest or deportation if they stepped out of line.
Lines said the onus of responsibility fell on the parent company. "Irrespective if the problem comes from a subcontractor, sub sub or so on, it is the responsibility of Balfour and Intereserve," he said.
Eddie Tuttle, principal policy and public affairs manager for the CIOB said: "Many industries are grappling with human rights abuses. Given the complexities of procurement in our sector, this issue demands cohesive action for entire supply chains. Every party has a role to play, from clients and investors to subcontractors, materials suppliers and labour agents.
"CIOB is working on an industry-wide paper, to be launched this summer, which explores how we can move forward together. Change will come slowly if we tackle these issues on a case by case basis. Collectively, we can make a deeper and longer lasting impact."
Responding to The Guardian’s report, a Balfour Beatty spokeswoman said: "BK Gulf WLL, in which Balfour Beatty has a 49% share, provides conditions for its workforce which go over and above local regulations and laws.
"Where workload exceeds our directly employed workforce capacity or where specialist skills are required, BK Gulf utilises a selection of labour supply companies. BK Gulf requires all of its labour supply companies and subcontractors to meet a selection criteria and code of conduct which includes requirements around operative working conditions.
"The company actively monitors its supply chain to ensure these standards and criteria are being met. BK Gulf takes the claims made by The Guardian very seriously and as a result is currently undertaking a review with the labour supply companies it works with to ensure our standards are being met."
A spokesman for Interserve said: "We are committed to supporting and protecting the health, safety and welfare of our employees in Qatar and will terminate contracts with any subcontractors or suppliers that fail to meet our required standards."
Photograph: Doha, capital of Qatar (Wikimedia Commons)
- Edited 18 April to incorporate CIOB comment.