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“We Neither Got the Visa Nor Our Salaries”

Reading Time: 6 minutes

neither visa nor pay-the workers“Qatar is country without a conscience” declared a March 2014 report by the International Trade Union Confederation.

Whether it is, you decide.

But recently I blogged a real unjust story of Roshan Kumar Singh—the Qatari authorities had not bothered to sort out a simple travel ban for 13 years! When I drew the attention of migrant rights workers to the story, it took a mere month for the ban to be lifted and for him to fly home.

Like Roshan’s story, this is yet another story by Hom Karki. It’s about the plight of a number Nepalese migrant workers in Qatar.

The story, however, is not new.

The first article about them came out way back in December 2013. It described how they were going hungry. A follow-up article published just two months later described how they were facing eviction from their living quarters.

Two months later, in April, another article came out describing their plight descried how the aggrieved workers were abandoning their wage claims and returning home empty-handed.

My friend Pete Pattisson did two write-ups on them for the Guardian in July 2014–this and this.

And yet, here’s the latest on them…with hardly any change in their predicament!

What follows is the English translation of the original article found on eKantipur.com. (The translator wishes to remain annonymous! Click here for an image of the original article. Hyperlink within the article my addition.)

We Neither Got the Visa Nor Our Salaries

Hom Karki

Doha (Qatar), October 24 – Of the 75 migrant workers visiting the court regularly to claim their overdue salary of 11 months, half have returned home empty handed. The rest are also preparing to leave.

For the past year, these workers, who had been building a government [Al Bidda] tower, have been fighting a court case to reclaim their salaries amounting to 1.7 million Riyals (about 45.9 million Rupees) [a little less than half a million US dollars]. Those owed back salaries, each has to collect from ten to fifty-seven thousand riyals.

“We are a point where we are unable continue fighting for our case any longer,” shared Rajkumar Sambahamphe of Paanchthar. “We have been suffering much mental anguish. So, now we just want to go home.”

According to him only 35 workers remain.

“Majority of our friends have already gone home,” he claimed, “some left early on, others have started leaving.”

Last Thursday, Sambahamphe, Pravin Kumar Rumba of Tehrathum, Minuram Budhathoki of Gulmi, Rohit Kumar Chaudhary of Sarlahi and Ram Prasad Daadi of Rupandehi had reached the Nepali embassy seeking help with returning home.

“I only have 35 thousand riyal overdue; I have not gone home for the past four years,”he said. “My pending court case is a constant source of worry for my folks back home. There is no point in remaining here.”

Visa Not Renewed

They worked for Lee Trading. The company’s manager is now in jail. Their sponsors have made no contact with them. [According to the February article the sponsors are “believed to have left the country.”] Given the amount of money involved, the Nepalese Embassy initiated the process of changing sponsors for these workers. The Research and Investigation Department also assisted them.

They were successful in changing their sponsors and transferring to another company. However, the company refused to cover their fines. As a result, they were left without visas.

“Initially, we were assured we wouldn’t need to pay fines to transfer,” he relayed, “but the new company refused to help, unless we ourselves paid the fines.” Having thus been illegal, the workers expressed concern over many of their friends being caught by the authorities.

How Their Pay Stopped

They used to work on the 38th and 39th floor of the Albida Tower, located close to the city centre in Doha. Durga Bahadur B.K. of Ded Gaon, Nawalparasi, who reached Qatar on July 14 2010 shared, “I got my November 2012 monthly salary.”

He did some of the electrical works at the tower.

“We were tricked into working without any pay,” said 24-year old Ram Achal Kunwar of Rupandehi.

“Every time we went to ask for our salary, they would tell us ‘in 10 to 15 days.’ They would then give us 200 riyal for food. They would always evade the question of pay by saying, ‘We will settle it later.’”

“I was confident that I would get my salary because it was a government project. However, I stopped going to work after the company stopped paying me. I went back again after getting assurance of payment at the completion of the projection.”

The company manager got arrested over the issue of a bounced cheque.

“After that we were in limbo, but one of the project officers asked us to complete the building construction promising to pay when completed,” says Krishna Khanal, the Company Supervisor from Arghakhachi district.

“So we focused on completing the project. It was completed at the end of August [2013]. But, we never received our salary.”

Since completing the project, from 1st October they have lived in their camp without any work.

Filing The Court Case

On October 10 last year, they filed a case at the high court to recoup their lost salaries and benefits. Since then they have made court appearances, regularly.

“The court has finalized the amount that each worker is supposed get,” recounted Budhathoki, “But the company has yet to pay us.”

The court ruled that the company deposit the amount in the workers’ bank account. Of the 75 workers, Krishna is owed the most.

“I have yet to collect my salary for 11 month, amounting to 56 thousand riyals—1.5 million rupees [over US$15k],” he confirmed.

Min Prasad Gautam from Hetauda who lifted boulders at the construction site is still owed 29 thousand riyals—0.8 million rupees.

“How can I think of returning home without reclaiming such a large sum of money?” he said. “I have to stay here even if only for the money.”

Unable to send money home, many have gotten into trouble with their families back home.

“I receive miss-calls, daily, from home. Lacking in funds, folks at home haven’t been able to harvest rice and plant wheat. Apparently the tractor operator keeps saying ‘If you can’t settle all the bills, just pay the cost of fuel for now,’” lamented Achal Kunwar of Dhakdhahi VDC, Rupandehi district.

“And here, I have my own problems.”

The accounts department of the company provided details of how much is owed to every single one of them.

“No one is owed less than ten thousand riyals!” he said. “What’s written on paper is worthless.”

Amar Bahadur Damai of Okhaldhunga shared with Kantipur that the workers waiting to go home for the past eight months have not been able to do so because of this.

The embassy stated that further inquiry is necessary. The victims have even requested the embassy to take charge of their case and facilitate their passage home. Acting Ambassador Ganesh Dhakal talking to these workers assured, “We will discuss what can be done.”

Photo: Workers, who for the last year have been fighting a legal battle for their salaries, at the Embassy submitting application for repatriation. Hom Karki/Kantipur.

Published Date: 24 October 2014, 09: 10

* * * * * * * *

What pains me is how many children’s dreams have been shattered as a result of this.

Surely Qataris have children and surely they will do everything they can to ensure that their own children grow up with the best possible life for them?!

These workers’ children’s future on the other hand are in the process of being destroyed because of the way Qataris are treating them!

Could I ask you to share this on social media as much as possible?

I am aware that It would be quite arrogant of me to think that sharing this post of mine would make a different when, according to one of the articles by my friend Pete Patisson, Amnesty made the Prime Minister aware of their plight back in December. And I quote,

“Qatar’s prime minister was specifically told about their plight when Amnesty International complained about the Al Bidda workers back in December. But nothing has happened for these men.”

The 38th and 39th floors of Al Bidda tower, the building these men were responsible for, is occupied by Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the committee organizing the 2022 World Cup. They are also supposed to have taken up the cause of these workers. And I quote,

‘A statement from Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organising committee says it did not commission Lee Trading and has been using the offices temporarily. It says it is “heavily dismayed to learn of the behaviour of Lee Trading with regard to the timely payment of its workers” and “will continue to press for a speedy and fair conclusion to all cases”.’

What will bring about lasting change is a change in the attitude of the Qataris (and other Arabs in the Gulf in general) towards Asian and African workers. When and how will that come about? I don’t know; I wish I did! Because only then will there be a change their behavior, which in turn will improve the conditions of the migrant laborers.

Regardless, I ask you to share for the sake of the children and younger siblings of these migrant laborers who, I am sure, face an uncertain future.

(Here’s what can happen to children and siblings of Nepalese migrant workers otherwise: Casualty of Qatar: Shattered Dreams?, Another Shattered Dream? and When Hope Dies.)

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