Professional body urges Carillion not to ‘sack the subcontractor’ over Qatar worker abuse

UK firm Carillion should not fire its labour subcontractor in Qatar following a BBC exposé on worker mistreatment there because that could make workers’ plights even worse, a professional institute has warned.

An investigation by BBC Newsnight aired on 8 December revealed that workers complained that subcontractors cheated them on pay, housed them in bad accommodation, confiscated their passports, and neglected their safety. 

The men, from Bangladesh, Nepal and other poor Asian countries, are working on the US$627.5m Msheireb Downtown Doha project being built by a joint venture led by the UK’s second biggest contractor, Carillion, which hires the subcontractors.

After the programme Carillion said it was "deeply concerned and surprised" by the claims, and said it would launch "an immediate review… to establish the position and take appropriate action".

On its website Carillion says: "We do everything we can to safeguard the health, safety and wellbeing of our people in Qatar, including employees of our subcontractors."

However, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) issued a statement today urging Carillion to hold back from firing the subcontractor if it finds that the workers’ allegations are substantiated, because that can lead to "humanitarian disaster".

"Sacking the labour subcontractor is not the solution," said the statement, "making a real difference to the plight of the workers is."

"The typical response in such cases has usually resulted in the plight of the workers going from bad to a humanitarian disaster where the workers are left in a limbo with no work, nowhere to live and no means of getting home and at risk to even more unscrupulous operators."

It added: "If Carillion find that the allegations are substantiated then we hope that the response is appropriate to dealing with the issues the workers face."

The CIOB urged Carillion to consult with the Qatar Foundation, which, it said, is "a major client of the construction industry, who have developed and are enforcing a very strong set of standards for their work." 

The CIOB, publisher of this website, held a conference on the issue of worker welfare in Qatar last June.

Photograph: Buildings in downtown Qatar (Rod Sweet)

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