Security guards at Doha World Cup park claim they are paid just 35p an hour | Workers’ rights

Migrant workers employed as security guards in a huge park that will be at the heart of Qatar’s World Cup festivities appear to be being paid as little as 35 pence an hour.

The men are stationed across Al Bidda Park, a pristine green space adjoining the Fifa Fan Festival. Throughout the tournament Al Bidda Park will be packed with football fans enjoying the sweeping lawns, shaded picnic spots and views over Doha. The guards interviewed are not contracted to Fifa or deployed in the Festival.

But long after fans have retreated to their hotels, the guards will stay on. In fact, it appears that fans are likely to see more of Doha in a week than these men will see in years. The guards say they work 12-hour shifts, and claim they usually get just one day off a month.

“We just go between our duty and our accommodation,” said one holding out his phone. “You can show me anywhere in Qatar and I won’t know where it is.”

The claims come on the eve of the start of the men’s Fifa World Cup, which is due to start on Sunday amid widespread international criticism of the host nation’s record on migrant worker and LGBTQ+ rights.

In recent weeks Fifa and the Qatari authorities have battled to turn the spotlight away from workers’ and LGBTQ+ rights, with Fifa’s general secretary Gianni Infantino saying World Cup teams they should “focus on the football” and warning them against “handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world”.

The Guardian’s findings are based on interviews carried out over the past few months with park guards working for Al Nasr Star Security Services. Guards and “marshals” employed by other companies also work in the park. There is no suggestion they are subject to the same claims over conditions.

Analysis by The Guardian of workers’ pay notifications, corroborated by workers’ accounts of their working hours and pay, suggests that the guards are typically paid 1330 rials (£310) a month for 348 hours on duty, plus a small food allowance. It is understood that this includes 104 hours of overtime, for which they are paid 150 rials, which if correct equates to less than 35p an hour.

Such working hours and overtime pay appear to be in breach of Qatar’s labour laws.

View of Doha from Al Bidda Park, Qatar.
The Al Bidda Park, which opened in 2018, adjoins Fifa’s fan festival and is likely to attract many football supporters. Photograph: Pete Pattisson

The security guards say they know they are being underpaid but feel powerless to act. “It’s illegal, but the government keeps quiet, so what can we do?” claims one.

“We put up with it because we need the money,” said another, revealing the predicament faced by many low-wage workers in Qatar. Others are grateful to at least have a job that pays more than they can make at home. “I’m happy because I get something … It’s a struggle but I don’t care because I don’t have anything,” one said.

An Amnesty International report in March this year found exploitation in the private security sector was commonplace in Qatar.

“Security guards are integral to the smooth running of the World Cup … No one should have to work under these conditions and anyone who has suffered abuse must be provided redress,” said Ella Knight, researcher on migrants’ labour rights at Amnesty.

Knight suggested the Guardian’s findings are, “another clear example of the shortcomings of the reform process and how remaining gaps in enforcement of laws continue to afflict the lives of migrant workers in the country.”

Qatar’s labour reforms should mean the Al Bidda Park guards are able to transfer to a better-paying job, but the workers say in practice it is very difficult, and believe that they still need their employer’s permission to seek other work. “If they gave [permission] … 90% would have changed jobs,” said one. “Even when we are sleeping, we dream of changing our job,” added a colleague.

Separately they all claim they had been forced to pay illegal recruitment fees – in the region of £1,175-£1,650 – to recruitment agents in their home countries to secure their jobs, effectively forcing them to work for up to five months just to repay the fee. And, while some football fans will enjoy the most opulent hotels in the world, some of these men sleep in bunk beds in over-crowded labour camps on the edge of the desert.

The Guardian visited one camp which houses the guards and found rooms with four bunk beds crammed end-to-end around the edge of a tiny space. There were no lockers, so the men shared their beds with their belongings or a suitcase. Cooking utensils were stuffed under the beds. Two large grimy kitchens and foul-smelling toilet cubicles stood outside. One guard said the toilets were so bad in his camp that he preferred to wait and use the ones at the park.

It is a world few football fans will see. Turn off a four-lane highway out of Doha and on to a potholed road and the only traffic is an endless flow of buses and minivans shipping men to and from their workplace. The road leads to dozens of accommodation blocks amid wasteland covered in litter. Outside each block, men sit on rocks scrolling through their phones while stray dogs play in the dust. A homemade basketball hoop is the only sign of normal life.

Today the Building and Wood Workers’ International, a trade union which has worked in partnership with the Qatari authorities to improve workers’ rights in the country, issued a strong-worded statement saying, ‘there is no sign that sustainable change [for migrant workers] is forthcoming.’

A Qatari government official said, “Over the past decade, extensive action has been taken to combat exploitative labour practices and provide accessible channels for workers to make complaints … When violations are recorded, corrective action is taken, and offending companies are penalised.”

The official said over 420,000 workers have changed their employer since a new law was introduced in 2020, which made it easier to change jobs. Last month, 3,712 labour inspections were carried out, he added, and 97% of workers are covered by the wage protection system, “which ensures all wages are paid in full and on time.”

“Systemic change does not happen in an instant – it takes time to transform a labour market. In other countries, this was a decades-long process, and in many countries – including in Europe – this process is still ongoing.

“Hundreds of thousands of workers have benefited from our labour reforms, and our commitment to improving the lives of every expatriate who has made Qatar a second home will continue long after the World Cup,” the official said.

The managing director of the Al Nasr Star Group confirmed the guards work 12-hour shifts but said that they get two hours’ break each day and one day off a week. The security guards who spoke to the Guardian claim they do not routinely get breaks during their working day, although one worker did say he was given breaks from work during the summer months.

The company did not respond to repeated requests for a written response to the allegations put to the Guardian by its workers or provide timesheets or information on pay for security guards working at Al Bidda.

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