Migrant workers in Qatar will begin receiving wage payments directly to their bank accounts beginning on Tuesday. The Wage Protection System (WPS) aims to guarantee that migrant workers — many of whom are working on 2022 World Cup-related projects — will finally receive their pay.
In an effort to protect workers’ wages, the Qatari government approved the WPS earlier this year to ensure that migrant workers would either be paid bimonthly or monthly and that wages would be transferred to their bank accounts. The six-month grace period for businesses to have the electronic payment system up and running expires on Tuesday, at which time companies could face fines up to 6,000 Qatari riyals (or $1,650), Agence France Presse reported.
Qatar’s WPS does address one of the major complaints that migrant workers have — a 2013 study found that at least one-fifth of workers were “sometimes, rarely or never” paid on time. Based on interviews with 73 migrant construction workers in a 2012 Human Rights Watch report, wages ranged between $8 and $11 per day.
Since Qatar won its bid to host the 2022 World Cup in December 2010, the country has faced intense pressure to fix the deplorable treatment of migrant workers. Migrants make up 94 percent of Qatar’s 1.7 million workforce population and it’s expected that over a million more workers may be needed to finish World Cup-related construction.
One activist told the publication Migrant-Rights.org that the problem isn’t entirely with non-payment, but with the wrong amount, lack of overtime pay, and unfair deductions, like forcing migrant workers to pay for their own recruitment fees. The activist said, “When the worker only receives a bank transfer, without a pay slip, he can’t contest it then and there. The first step should have been a minimum wage commitment.”
Even as it looks like Qatar is beginning to address wage payment issues through the WPS, however, the country still hasn’t made good on a year-old promise to reform labor conditions and human rights problems. A May 2015 Amnesty International briefing found that “only limited progress has been achieved” on migrant labor rights and said that “Qatar is failing migrant workers. Last year the government made promises to improve migrant labour rights in Qatar, but in practice, there have been no significant advances in the protection of rights.”
The issues rest in part on the country’s reliance on the kafala (or sponsorship) system, which prevents migrant workers from changing jobs or leaving the country without the sponsor’s permission. Many migrants often find themselves without pay or their passports confiscated.
Working conditions are not only deplorable, but they’re also oftentimes fatal. A 2014 International Trade Union Confederation report estimated that 4,000 migrant workers could die as part of the World Cup construction efforts. And The Guardian found that Nepalese workers died at a rate of one every two days last year.