Lankan workers accuse recruitment agencies

A group of 16 Sri Lankan workers in Qatar have been left in the lurch by their employer after the recruitment agencies allegedly cheated them.

In an e-mail sent to Gulf Times, a copy of which was also sent to the Sri Lankan embassy, one of the workers said they had been hired as drivers for a trading and contracting company in Qatar.

However, he alleged that the recruitment agencies, some of which are based in Sri Lanka, cheated them on their promises of better employment opportunities and issued them labour visas.

“We haven’t received our basic salaries for over three months now,” he said. The workers are now living in the backyard of the company premises where many have fallen ill because of the extremely hot weather. “Some of us were even admitted to hospital,” he added.

The Sri Lankan embassy said it was not true that so far they had done nothing to help their nationals. The embassy’s deputy chief of mission, in an e-mail, said that “the embassy has been aware of this issue and the embassy officials have attended to the needs of the workers, held discussion with the company concerned and are in the process of resolving this matter”.

The embassy, however, declined to say whether it would take any action against the Sri Lanka-based  agencies which recruited the workers.

One of the victims said that it was only after  Gulf Times had taken up their issue that the  embassy had called them for a meeting tomorrow (Thursday).

Six months ago, Qatar had blacklisted some 2,400 companies and 1,200 locals from sponsoring employees for flouting labour laws.

The Ministry of Interior had taken action against companies and individuals who employed runaway workers or who failed to provide or renew their employees’ residency permits.

Action was also taken against several companies who had refused to pay their workers’ return tickets at the end of their employment, prompting them to stay back and find work in Qatar without proper paperwork.

Also, six months ago, the Human Rights Watch had called for better treatment of low-income migrant workers whose numbers are expected to increase by an estimated million people in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup.

In a 665-page 2013 World Report, HRW said that although Qatar’s labour law limited working hours, required paid annual leaves and outlined requisite health and safety conditions for work environments, enforcement of the law was weak and did not cover female domestic workers.

Additionally, the report pointed out that expats were unable to legally unionise or strike, despite comprising 99%  of the private sector workforce. The sponsorship, or kafala system, also makes it difficult for workers to change jobs or leave the country, even on vacation, without their employers’ permission.

Also, a year ago, the HRW had launched a 145-page investigation into the labour conditions of migrant workers in Qatar, highlighting issues of abuse and exploitation, often in direct violation of law.

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