Kenyan security guards in Qatar complain of forced labour

Guards forced to work 12 hours, seven days straight for months

A mask-clad passenger shows his phone to a security guard at the Doha Metro, to show a green status (signifying an all-clear from coronavirus) on the Ehteraz smartphone app upon entering a station in Qatar's capital on September 1, 2020. Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Human Rights group, Amnesty International has accused Qatar of mistreating security guards mostly from Kenya and other African countries.

Amnesty in a report titled; They think that we’re machines, revealed that immigrant workers regularly worked 12 hours a day with a majority being denied their day off.

Qatari law and regulations restrict working hours to a maximum of 60 hours per week, including overtime, and is clear that everyone is entitled to one full day of paid rest each week.

One of the Kenyans interviewed by the non-governmental organization revealed how he was forced to leave his home at 6:30am and would only return back from work at 8pm for several months on end.

The Kenyan who chose to stay anonymous further revealed that he had to seek express permission from his employers. This was often refused and taking a rest day without permission could result in wage deductions, amounting to forced labour.

Another security guard identified as Lawrence explained how he and other Kenyans had to pay exorbitant recruitment fees hoping that they will be reimbursed only to find out that the pay was extremely different from what they had been promised.

“They say at the job you have a lunch break of one hour, but we don’t have one and they don’t pay you. They say Friday is an off day, but it is an off that you don’t have…You cannot complain – if you do you are terminated and deported,” explained Lawrence.

Since 2017, the government has introduced measures to protect migrant labourers from working in excessive heat, limit their working hours and improve conditions in workers' camps.

However, Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice revealed the reforms were not being effectively implemented.

"Many of the security guards we spoke to knew their employers were breaking the law but felt powerless to challenge them. Physically and emotionally exhausted, workers kept reporting for duty under threat of financial penalties – or worse, contract termination or deportation,” said Cockburn.

Some guards reported being heavily financially penalised for ‘misdemeanours’ such as not wearing their uniform properly, or for leaving their post to use the toilet without someone to cover for them.

In response to Amnesty International’s allegations, Qatar’s Ministry of Labour acknowledged that “individual cases of wrongdoing need to be dealt with immediately.” It went on to confirm its commitment to address and rectify the issues.

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