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Qatar arrested more than 60 foreign workers protesting over late wages and deported some of them, a move that comes as the Gulf nation faces ongoing scrutiny over its labor practices just months ahead of an international soccer tournament, the Associated Press reported Monday.
On Aug. 14, dozens of foreign laborers demonstrated in front of the offices of Al Bandary International Group, a conglomerate that includes construction, hotels and food services. The workers were lamenting over the late payments, saying that some of them had not received their salaries for as long as seven months.
The company did not comment on the situation, but the government later acknowledged that the firm had not paid salaries. Officials added that Qatar’s Labor Ministry would pay “all delayed salaries and benefits” to those affected.
Still, police later arrested the demonstrators and held them in detention centers. The government said that a number of protesters “were detained for breaching public safety laws,” but declined to offer any information about the arrests or any deportations.
Qatar and other Gulf Arab nations heavily rely on foreign labor and are known to deport demonstrating workers. The right to form unions is tightly controlled and only available to Qataris.
Labor rights activists warned that the detentions placed further doubt on Qatar’s pledges to improve worker welfare ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup set to take place in November.
In 2010, FIFA – the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or “International Federation of Association Football” in French – awarded Qatar the international soccer tournament in Doha, the capital.
Since then, the energy-rich country has taken steps to revamp its employment practices, such as abolishing its “kafala” employment structure. The controversial system bound workers to their employers, who had the final say on whether they could leave their positions or the country.
Qatar also introduced a minimum wage of $275 per month for workers, as well as ordered food and housing allowances for employees not receiving them directly from their employers.
Even so, advocates cautioned that some of the changes could have been “a cover” for authorities allowing prevailing labor practices to continue.