Bank transfers could help Gulf's migrant workers, claims EAP
Mandatory electronic wage payments to migrant construction workers in Qatar could help stamp out frequent cases of non-payment, according to one of the recommendations in a report by UK-based NGO Engineers Against Poverty (EAP).
Qatar is dependent on migrant workers from low income countries in Asia to provide its construction workforce as it ramps up a huge programme of construction in preparation to host the World Cup in 2022, and has been accused of various human rights abuses.
The report’s publication was announced at a round table meeting chaired by the CIOB’s regional president Stephen Lines, who also proposed that a percentage of the advance payment that clients make to contractors could be placed in a bond for the protection of workers’ wages. Participants welcomed this suggestion and hoped that it would be taken up by government clients.
EAP’s research team leader Jill Wells commented: “Addressing the non-payment problem has to start with clients, but it directly affects principal contractors, and measures like payment via electronic bank transfers, or setting up a hotline for projects to alert authorities when people have not been paid could make a major difference to the industry’s reputation. A new local construction industry forum is currently being set up and a meeting is planned for March where we will discuss how to take these recommendations forward.”
A recent survey of migrant workers completed by Qatar University found that around 20% were frequently not paid, with the actual number affected likely to be much higher given that workers are often unwilling to admit they have not received their wages.
The EAP report, based on interviews with 10 principal contractors and five project management consultants working in Qatar, aimed to gauge reactions to a new set of mandatory standards for migrant workers’ welfare, released in April 2013 by local public client the Qatar Foundation.
The contractors interviewed welcomed the standards but felt they did not go far enough to ensure that workers, including those employed by subcontractors, were paid in full and on time. As a result the report recommends that paying wages via bank transfers would provide workers with the evidence needed to prove they have not been paid.
In fact, three of the 10 contractors interviewed said they were already paying wages through bank transfers.
The EAP report also recommends that:
- All public sector clients follow the approach adopted by the Qatar Foundation and set up a workers’ welfare department to undertake regular welfare audits of contractors and subcontractors and aim to work only with contractors who comply with the standards.
- Main contractors should be required to set up a “hotline” for workers to alert all stakeholders to delayed payment of wages by subcontractors.
- The labour department should be strengthened so that the Qatari government can play a bigger role in enforcing its own laws and regulations and clamping down on companies that flout the law and abuse the workers.
- The Qatari government should pressure governments of countries sending labour to step up efforts to address corruption and exploitation in the recruitment business.
The EAP was set up 12 years ago by the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers to address issues around procurement and labour standards on international infrastructure and development projects. It also runs the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative.